Comfortable and Furious


Familiar as I was with the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, I could not have imagined how involved I would be in a documentary about that famous event. But more than a mere recreation of news clips, director Robert Stone has assembled archival footage, interviews, and tape recordings to comment on the radical Left itself; both in terms of its appeal and self-destructiveness. For the first time, I witnessed the famous surveillance video in its entirety (not just the shot of Hearst with her weapon) and listened as Patty turned from a scared, pampered heiress to a fiery, mean-spirited revolutionary (her words against her fiance are priceless).

And it never ceases to amaze me how the Symbionese Liberation Army — quite literally a handful of young idealists — brought California to its knees, mocking authority and eluding capture for many months. And the more brazen they became — daylight bank robberies, for example — the more fascinating I (and we) found them. They were doomed to failure, of course (most of the members were eventually killed when the police set fire to their hideout), but for a time they captured the spirit of an age, which means of course that they inhabited that middle ground between romance and murderous thuggery.

And because this is America, Hearst is now a celebrity once again, this time for her frequent appearances in the films of John Waters. But in many ways, it was a more innocent time — when terrorists were as likely to demand food for the poor as they were the head of The Man on a stick.