Thursday, March 25, 2010

Terrorism and Guilt: Schrader's Patty Hearst

Is it just me or are cinematic representations of terrorist groups a dry, often dull affair? The latest attempt by filmmaker Uli Edel titled "The Baader Meinhof Complex" sprints through a decade of the now infamous German cell with big studio verve, yet it never claims a real soul (or identity) with its nihilistic anti-establishment characters. They bomb and kill people, smoke cigarettes, look cool and spend all day bucking against the 'bourgeois' values they were born with. They don't get any sympathy with me.

Perhaps the most effective way to present the trials and tribulations of a terrorist group is the way writer-director Paul Schrader did with his 1988 film, "Patty Hearst". Eschewing any real emotional involvement with its characters, "Patty Hearst" is a highly stylized and dry exploration of the newspaper heiress' kidnapping and eventual alliance with her kidnappers. As Patty Hearst, Natasha Richardson is very good... and her performance holds the film together in the first half when it could have easily suffocated itself with stilted propagandist ramblings from the kidnappers (namely leader Ving Rhames). Filmed in stark black and white and featuring an eclectic, propulsive score for the first 30 minutes or so, "Patty Hearst" is a visual and audible triumph that surely alienated alot of viewers back in the day. And in the usual Schrader fashion, he places a voice over in Hearst that's part self-flagellation and mostly Catholic guilt. Watch this film back to back with "The Last Temptation of Christ" and the two lead characters could be interchangeable.

The second half of "Patty Hearst" is less adventurous, but still thrilling in the way it presents Hearst's Stockholm Syndrome with the terrorist group and her eventual capture by the authorities. Right up to the end, Schrader portrays Hearst as a manipulated girl-child whose adult oriented outlook has been hardwired to believe something else. It's a fitting (and bitterly nihilistic) finale when Richardson, being talked to by her father off screen, looks at the camera and utters "you know dad..... fuck it." Schrader has a knack for haunting endings, and this one in "Patty Hearst" takes the cake. Hearst is beyond asking for forgiveness, which is a clean break from so many dynamic Schrader protagonists.

1 comment:

Ivan said...

And let's not forget William Forsyth's brain-frying performance as William Harris, especially his scene in blackface.

Yeah, this is a really good one--why no DVD?