Monday, 3 November 2014

Patty Hearst (1988)

Paul Schrader's take on the Patty Hearst story, based on her own autobiography concerning the events, is a truly distinctive movie, blessed by both Schrader's passionate and perverse style and a fantastic central performance from Natasha Richardson.

Patty Hearst, the 19 year old heiress of America's most famous newspaper family, was kidnapped in 1974 by a group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army; a revolutionary group of urban guerrillas led by a verbose intimidating black man, Cinque (played here by Ving Rhames). During her captivity, Hearst would become the world's most infamous victim of the 'Stockholm Syndrome', a condition in which the victim is brainwashed to be sympathetic to, and ultimately active in, their kidnappers beliefs and actions. Following her active participation in the robbing of banks and stores, Hearst became America's most famous fugitive and, upon capture by the authorities, would spent the rest of the 70s struggling with the legal ordeal of proving her brainwashing.  

Schrader's movie is at its best in the film's opening 30 minutes which deals in the capturing of Hearst. An experimental joy, it's told uniquely from her perspective, held in a darkened closet, blindfolded and beset by numerous voices and the occasional blinding shaft of brilliant white light. Schrader's aim is to make the audience feel some of the disorientation that Hearst herself must have felt and this series of montages, all underpinned by the constant score from Scott Johnson is an excitingly unique film experience. 

Upon her release from the closet, Hearst proves herself with her fellow members of the SLA and we see their day to day activities of training and aimless, naive indoctrination between moments of unsettling violence in the robberies. Schrader wisely depicts the SLA as somewhat sad and pitiful characters whose big words may ultimately be hollow though their aggressive actions can lead to dire consequences.

Natasha Richardson on set with the real Patty Hearst

Paul Schrader on set

The film belongs to Richardson and Schrader. It's truly sad to consider Richardson's tragic premature passing, as she was clearly capable of great performances just like her mother - unlike her sister Joely! She manages to create something here that is engaging enough to elicit audience sympathy yet still aloof enough to fit in with the evasive truth and open theories an audience may share. Whilst of Schrader, one is left to consider just how dangerous, eccentric and original a presence he has in cinema; apart from that great opening thirty minutes or so, I especially liked the scenes that showed Hearst in flashback as a child or at home with her family, clad in her blindfold.

Does it give us any answers? Well Patty Hearst offers us an insight, certainly but the truth? Maybe not. This is a curious moment in American history, one that grips and arouses curiosity in people to this day. Ultimately I would recommend the excellent documentary film Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst over this, though this is still very much worth watching.

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