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.
George Cukor carefully avoids the obvious effects in telling this story of a husband (Charles Boyer) attempting to drive his wife (Ingrid Bergman) insane; instead, this 1944 film is one of the few psychological thrillers that is genuinely psychological, depending on subtle clues —a gesture, an intonation—to thought and character. Boyer and Bergman are superb, and Angela Lansbury makes her debut as a cunning cockney maid. It’s also one of the few films to expand the use of offscreen space, not simply to the sides of the frame, but to the areas above and below the image as well. With Joseph Cotten and Dame May Whitty.
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
In this month’s movie Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), Charles Boyer’s character, Gregory Anton, sets out to enact a well-planned strategy of deceit, in order to gain the possessions of a famous opera singer. He almost succeeds because his wife, Paula, is such an easy victim of his treachery. Her vulnerability comes from being a female ingenue, having grown up in the opera singer’s (i.e., her aunt’s) London household.
With recent attention on the film Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), let’s not overlook its director, George Cukor (1899-1983). There is much to be learned from this interesting man who got his professional start in New York. Starting in the mid 1920’s when silent movies evolved to talkies, Cukor was called to Hollywood as a voice coach thus giving him opportunities to work his way up to the coveted role of director. A prolific career of over 60 films and an Academy Award for Best Director in 1965 for My Fair Lady (Cukor, 1964), on top of numerous other nominations, ensured that George Cukor made a strong mark on Hollywood. Continue reading George Cukor, Director of Influence
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 storylines 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 (Schreiber, 2006). 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 (Schreiber, 2006). 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.
4 in Radical group of 70’s are sentenced in murder. (2003, Feb 15). The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/15/us/4-in-radical-group-of-70-s-are-sentenced-in-murder.html
Davidson, S. (1974, Jun 2). The images constantly reversing. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1974/06/02/archives/notes-from-the-land-of-the-cobra-the-images-constantly-reversing.html
Fosburgh, L. (1974, Nov 11). Miss Hearst still a fugitive 6 months after reaffirming allegiance to kidnappers. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1974/11/19/archives/miss-hearst-still-a-fugitive-6-months-after-reaffirming-allegiance.html
Gecker, J. (2017, Feb 2). Violent protesters block Berkeley talk by Breitbart editor. The Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/berkeley-braces-for-protests-at-milo-yiannopoulos-talk/412475263/
Henderson, A. (2013). 10 ways America has come to resemble a banana republic. In Alternet. Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/progressive-wire/10-ways-america-has-come-resemble-banana-republic
Higgins, G. V. (1974, Apr 14). But what if it Wasn’t A kidnapping? The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/08/20/specials/higgins-kidnapping.html
Independent Voices. (1976, Jan 22). Ann Arbor Sun. Retrieved from http://voices.revealdigital.com/cgi-bin/independentvoices?a=d&d=BGEAIGG19760122.1.5&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN—————1#
Mankiewicz, J. (2009, Jul 25). Kidnapped Heiress: The Patty Hearst Story. Dateline NBC. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32089504/ns/dateline_nbc-newsmakers/t/kidnapped-heiress-patty-hearst-story/
Ross, M. (2017, Feb 8). ‘Dilbert’ creator Scott Adams ends UC-Berkeley support over Milo Yiannopoulos protests. The Mercury News. Retrieved from http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/02/08/dilbert-creator-scott-adams-ends-uc-berkeley-support-over-milo-yiannopoulos-protests/
Schreiber, B. (2016). Revolution’s end: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA. Skyhorse Publishing.
Stone, R. [Director]. (2004). Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst [Motion Picture]. USA, WGBH.
Toobin, J. (2016). American heiress: The Wild saga of kidnapping, crimes, and trial of Patty Hearst. New York: Doubleday.
Waggoner, D. & Jackovich, K. (1979, Apr 9). Patty’s free, but Randolph left, and Catherine Hearst wonders what’s next. People Magazine. Retrieved from http://people.com/archive/pattys-free-but-randolph-left-and-catherine-hearst-wonders-whats-next-vol-11-no-14/
Mind control is an interesting concept. This terminology most often conjures up notions of intrigue, sci-fi, destructive cults, MK Ultra, and maybe thoughts of Jason Bourne. In describing Patty Hearst at her trial, her defense team highlighted Hearst’s terror and the abuses of her captivity, suggesting that she may have been drugged into a “disordered and frightened” state. The idea that many believe about her circumstance is that she was brainwashed, “also known as coercive persuasion or manipulative thought reform” (Morabito, 2014, Apr 15), and developed what is known as “Stockholm syndrome,” a mind condition where she unconsciously abandoned her own prior belief systems and took on the mindset of her captors (Jameson, 2010).
What does it mean to be brainwashed? Continue reading Propaganda, Mind Control, and Engineering Public Opinion
MoviesonMyMind continues our discourse on the Spring 2017 theme of persuasion with the documentary, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (Stone, 2004). The 1974 kidnapping of “newspaper heiress” Patty Hearst was sensational.
In California, the SLA shoot‐out seemed an event almost as gripping as a Presidential assassination. People stopped strangers on the street to ask if Patty was all right, and called friends to tell them to turn on the television. At the Student Union in Berkeley, groups gathered around monitors, staring at the incongruity of palm trees and flame. It seemed horribly ironic that such a holocaust would occur in Los Angeles. As long as the SLA had stayed in the Bay area, they managed to foil all pursuers. It was as if they were protected by a ring of sympathetic communities unwilling to help the FBI. (Davidson, 1974).
High-profile crimes such as this one always bring a maelstrom of reporters, investigators, and media pundits, as well as a nation of armchair detectives. Continue reading The Patty Hearst Case: Persuasion, Persecution, or Predisposition?