Mary Reed is a staff writer and director of social media at Movies on My Mind, where she contributes to the monthly magazine and book publishing projects. Along with a blog of her own, she regularly posts about our second Thursday films, always adding a fresh and enlightening perspective. A graduate of Emory University, she was previously a consultant at Accenture.
To my knowledge, I know no one personally, or even by second or third degree, who is a member of the Church of Scientology. Therefore, I begin with this disclaimer: my knowledge of the religion of Scientology stems from only secondary sources. Examples:
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Gibney, 2016) – a documentary by filmmaker Alex Gibney, adapted from the book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Wright, 2013) by journalist, Lawrence Wright.
My Scientology Movie (Dower, 2016) – a British documentary directed by John Dower
Scientology Atlanta’s web site (“Atlanta’s Spirit of Freedom Shines Bright as Georgia’s First Ideal Scientology Church Opens,” 2016, Apr 2).
Media coverage of Tom Cruise over the years. According to the movie, Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief,
The only thing most people know about Scientology is that Tom Cruise is a member.
Thus, I am hard-pressed to complete this assignment to write about positive aspects of the religion of Scientology, apart from what I wrote about it in September 2016. Last year, Movies on My Mind magazine screened and critiqued Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects (Soderbergh, 2013), about which I wrote in “Side Effects of Civilizing” (Reed, 2016, Sep 9),
It is well known that Tom Cruise is intense and controlling, and I believe he found an unusual form of a higher power to channel his tendencies. Consider Tom Cruise’s career and the fabulous shape he is in after four decades n the movie business. Putting his bizarre behavior aside, that is remarkable. If Tom Cruise needed the structure of Scientology to achieve that, then so be it (Huddleston, 2016).
The Witness documentary about Kitty Genovese chronicles Bill Genovese’s quest to find out why not one of the reported thirty-eight witnesses stepped in to help his beloved older sister (Salomon, 2015). After her murder in 1964, intense grief and inner turmoil plagued Bill Genovese’s life until, four decades later, he set out proactively to find the truth. Through the course of his personal investigation, his questions multiplied exponentially—specifically those about human nature.
Bill Genovese tracked down and spoke with witnesses who had heard or seen portions of Winston Moseley’s two attacks on Kitty. The Witness shows an interview in which a former neighbor claimed to have called the police. Records of these calls cannot be found. Continue reading Where were the heroes for Kitty Genovese?→
It has been three quarters of a century since Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), filled its first audiences with eerie vibes that have not diminished with passing generations. Having stood the test of time due to intriguing plot, superior acting, and solid movie making, the film Gaslight continues to have a lasting impact on viewers, especially those who can apply its meaning to current events. Patrick Hamilton, a little known British playwright, wrote the original play, “Gas Light (known in the United States as Angel Street),” in 1938 (“Gas Light”, 2017), and unknowingly coined a term that has survived to become, most recently, part of American political jargon.
He was the Rupert Murdoch of his day: a media baron who made millions marketing scandal, crime and crisis. He was so rich, he built a castle as a monument to his vanity. So iconic that his life story inspired the movie classic 'Citizen Kane.' When William Randolph Hearst died in 1951, he left future generations of Hearsts set for life—safely cushioned in the bubble of their birthright. But on the evening of Feb. 4, 1974, that bubble burst.
—Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC
The documentary film, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004), is a synopsis of a high-profile criminal case, which in the 1970s had most of America enraptured. The movie is worth your while for at least the following four reasons:
First is the movie's accurate portrayal of UC Berkeley and other similar college campuses in America in the late 1960s-70s. Forty years have passed since the Patty Hearst case, yet it is strikingly similar to what is going on today. A few weeks ago, UC Berkeley was mired with violent protests against Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News, a conservative media outlet (Gecker, 2017; Ross, 2017). Not only disallowing free speech on the campus, but the UC Berkeley protesters also removed metal barriers, smashed windows in buildings both on-campus and off, and defied police, who, fortunately, were able to protect the speaker from the violence.
But officials said it was a smaller group of protesters dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts that showed up as night fell to break windows with metal barricades, throw smoke bombs and flares and start a large bonfire outside the building with a diesel generator.
'This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers,' said UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet (Gecker, 2017 Feb 2).
Scott Adams, Berkeley alumnus and author of the cartoon strip, "Dilbert,"
said he had decided to side 'with the Jewish gay immigrant who has the African-American boyfriend,' referring to Yiannapoulos, rather than the 'the hypnotized zombie-boys in black masks who were clubbing people who hold different points of view (Ross, 2017 Feb 8).
Was it students expressing fear and anger in protest of Donald Trump's victory that prompted colleges across the U.S. to provide safe places and trauma tents on their campuses? Many have expressed publicly their perception of our country as being led by a Fascist, and consequently, fear that America is turning into a banana republic (Henderson, 2013).
[C]ountries that were considered banana republics . . . lacked upward mobility for most of the population and were plagued by blatant income equality, a corrupt alliance of government and corporate interests, rampant human rights abuses, police corruption and extensive use of torture on political dissidents.
"Black Lives Matter," the "Women's March," and other like-minded groups are reported to have been formed in solidarity to fight injustices.
A second reason to watch this film is that the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) is shown as what they truly were—a tiny, slogan-drunk band of revolutionaries so obsessed with guns and publicity that they seem almost pre-satirized. (Spiotta, 2016).
Third, it reports justice finally served after 27 years for the death of Myrna Opsahl, a woman killed by SLA members during a bank robbery ("4 in Radical Group of 70's Are Sentenced in Murder", 2003).
And, finally, it is worth watching to see the interviews with two surviving members of the long-defunct SLA, Russ Little and Mike Bortin.
This is not the whole story, crucial details left out
But, this is not the whole story. Not by a long shot. Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst is a one-dimensional portrayal of the actual ordeal, one that reinforces my thinking that this was not a straightforward kidnapping. In other words, it could be called a whitewashed story.
A crucial detail is left out—Patty Hearst was allegedly in a close relationship with Donald DeFreeze, the leader of the SLA, while he was still in prison. Brad Schrieber's book, Revolutions End: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA (2006), claims that Patty Hearst was familiar with her kidnappers.
According to this story, she was among a group of young college girls who, prior to the kidnapping, visited the prison accompanied a UC Berkeley professor who aspired to assist in rehabilitating prisoners. A relationship then blossomed between Hearst and DeFreeze. Interestingly, Schreiber's research shows that Hearst was already radicalized before the group visit(s) and that she continued to visit DeFreeze in secret at Vacaville prison. However, when she broke up with him, DeFreeze became furious with her and set up the kidnapping to get even.
Another gap in the documentary is Patty's exclamation as she was being kidnapped, "Oh, not me!" (Mankiewicz, 2009; Fosburgh, 1974). Hearst and DeFreeze are rumored to have planned for another Hearst sister to be kidnapped (Schreiber, 2006). Then, when their relationship collapsed, this plan changed.
Matters are further complicated by reports that DeFreeze was cooperating with the CIA, and that the CIA actually started the SLA as a phony left-wing organization in order to decrease the effectiveness of white radical groups protesting the Vietnam War. While similar to many TV and movie story lines with characters as "government informants," this strategy is actually more commonplace than one might think. This scheme and the distraction it provided was designed to reduce the risk to public safety, since blowing up buildings was part of the existing radical groups' strategy (Ibid.). Why else was DeFreeze’s escape from Soledad Prison so easy? Yet, why were the members of the SLA not aware that DeFreeze was a double agent?
This notion is further strengthened by California Representative Leo Ryan’s discovery that DeFreeze had been a victim of behavior modification by the CIA while in prison, which would imply that Hearst got mixed up in a CIA plot (Ibid.). Why was Hearst not inside the Los Angeles house when most of the gang members were killed?
'You are witnessing the biggest gunfight in the history of the West,' one of the news correspondents shouted into his beeper phone. Could the battle have been staged for the evening news? The shooting began at 5:30 P.M., Pacific standard time, and the fire erupted at 6:30 P.M. The camera crews had been given two hours' notice to prepare for live color coverage (Davidson, 1974).
These omissions are a discredit to the documentary.
Missing information about Hearst family dynamics
Also missing in the film is a description of Hearst family dynamics, which would have shed light on Patty as a person. Catherine Campbell Hearst was a prim lady who practiced Catholicism devoutly. A native of Atlanta, Georgia and a graduate of Washington Seminary (a precursor to the Westminster Schools), she married Randolph Hearst in what was called the wedding of the decade in 1930s Atlanta (Toobin, 2016; Waggoner & Jackovich, 1979). She lived as a proper wife and mother who likely expected the same of her daughters. Catherine asked that certain aspects of the kidnapping be kept private, e.g., that her 19-year-old daughter was living with her fiance Steven Weed, and that she was in a bathrobe during the kidnapping. Both imply pre-marital sex, which went against Catherine Hearst’s Catholic convictions. Also left out is the strange fact that Hearst had her driver's license in her bathrobe pocket when she was taken(Higgins, 1974).
It was also Catherine Hearst who insisted on brainwashing as the legal strategy for defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey. Understandably, she did not want the American public to believe that her daughter acted on her own free will. It is likely that Patty Hearst filled the role of a wild child in the family, one who continued to undermine her mother even as a captive. During a broadcast from the SLA to the Hearsts, she publicly criticized Catherine Hearst's wearing of a black dress. This very comment represents a rebellious teenager who thought her mother was hopelessly out of touch, rather than from a young woman desperate to get back to the sanctity of her home. Show me a rebellious young person who wants to go the opposite direction of what is expected of her, and I will show you an inflexible mother who is concerned with appearances and has preconceived notions of the roles that her daughter will fulfill in society.
There is evidence of Patty's rebellion from within the family as well. She would not be the first young woman to go against her parents ' wishes and certainly not the last. This interpretation of her later actions suggests that once Patty got the thrills out of her system and no longer thought of her family as Fascist pigs, she went right back into her life as a Hearst. The end of the movie shows an interview in which Patty responded to a question about her childhood in a rich and powerful family. "It was pretty perfect." This flippant and uninspired response does not reflect a grateful woman who has taken the time to think about how her actions affected her family.
Despite its gaps, Guerilla, The Taking of Patty Hearst offers a comprehensive overview of a complex event. It takes digging beyond the documentary to discover other details and perspectives on the story. Further, depending on the limitations of any given filmmaker and his/her motivations, all documentaries present incomplete information on some level. It is, therefore, important for the viewer to watch with a questioning mind.
A Further disclaimer
At this point, I feel compelled to offer this further disclaimer. I cannot validate all sources cited in this article. A source I have cited multiple times in this piece is Brad Schreiber's book, Revolution's End The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA (2016). Please note that, while inspiring conviction, Schreiber's content is not to be taken in total as completely factual. In addition, any implication in my journal that Patty Hearst possessed prior knowledge of the kidnapping is based on speculation and opinion.
Movies on My Mind's research methodology involves education and exposure: 1) education through reading a wide range of material on our assigned film and, 2) exposure through a group discourse that reveals other angles from which to perceive the subject film. Our quest to learn the truth about Patty Hearst's kidnapping involved reading numerous articles and books written about the event. Among the sources are the aforementioned recent works: Revolution's End by Brad Schreiber (2016) and American Heiress The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (2016).
Even though Movies on My Mind attempts to provide evidence taken from a wide range of sources that both agree with and contradict an argument, and further, uses reference material from sources considered of high repute, the budget required to critically evaluate all the material we use for research is limited, hence this disclaimer. However, in this particular case, it may never be possible to confirm or deny all propositions, as the incentives of parties who are in a position to expose the truth are inconsistent and possibly misaligned.
By the 1890s, the technology of photography had evolved to a point where motion pictures were possible, and it didn’t take long for mankind to realize the enormous potential of the medium for propaganda. Motion pictures were easily understood for all levels of education, in spite of a silent screen, and could reach the masses in minimal time. Within 30 years of the first motion picture ever filmed, Russian movie maker Sergei Eisenstein had directed Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925) with the purpose of creating goodwill for the Bolsheviks and building resentment towards the Tsarists. Continue reading Thoughts on Battleship Potemkin and Propaganda→
Mervyn LeRoy’s film Blossoms in the Dust is loosely based on the life of Edna Gladney, an influential Texas mover and shaker who is credited for finding homes for orphans, and for having the term illegitimate permanently removed from vital records in the state. Blossoms in the Dust is an ideal movie to share with the family; it simultaneously warms and wrenches the heart; it entertains, inspires and, educates the audience about a woman who made the world a better place lest she be forgotten with the passage of time. Continue reading Blossoms in the Dust: Thinking About Adoption→