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I looked all this stuff up on Wikipedia the other day; I don't remember why. My whole life, I'd known at least vaguely of who Patty Hearst was. I'd seen that picture, that famous picture, many, many times. I'd read the old [i]Doonesbury[/i] strips on the subject. I'd laughed hugely at her portrayal of Wanda's Mom in [i]Cry-Baby[/i]. And, eventually, I pieced together at least some of the story. As much of the story as most people know, I guess, and more than most people my age, almost certainly. But until a couple of weeks ago, I honestly had no idea why the group that kidnapped her was called the Symbionese Liberation Army. In my head, I vaguely paralelled it with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a looming presence of my politically-aware childhood. I was never sure, however, what group the Symbionese were. (For the curious, it's a word invented by Donald DeFreeze, the group's original leader, based on the word "symbiosis.")
This documentary really starts with the first major action of the SLA, the assassination of Oakland school superintendent Dr. Marcus Foster and wounding of his deputy, Robert Blackburn. Two SLA members went to prison for this shooting. Following that, on 4 February, 1974, the SLA kidnapped heiress Patricia Campbell Hearst, granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst. The SLA told the family that they would free her if the imprisoned members were released, which of course the family could not do. Then, they demanded that the family distribute enormous amounts of food to the poor, a program that didn't really work. Eventually, the tapes that they released from Patty had her declaring her rejection of her family and society and her taking the new name Tania. It was after this that she took part in the Hibernia Bank robbery, the group's most famous activity. Later, five SLA members (including DeFreeze) were killed as part of a firefight in Los Angeles. Eventually, Hearst was captured, tried, and convicted for her role in the Hibernia Bank robbery. She later had her sentence commuted by Jimmy Carter and was pardoned by Bill Clinton.
The film takes essentially no stance on Hearst's claims that she was brainwashed by the SLA. While her story is used as a frame to hold the story together and her name features prominently in one of the titles under which this was released, there is little detail about Hearst herself mentioned. The details of the SLA's activities rate more mention. Hearst is not among those former SLA members interviewed, though I doubt she would have agreed to be so if asked. There is, at the end, a brief shot of a young, clean-cut Patty Hearst beaming at the camera after her commutation; this, I think, serves to remind us that no other member of the organization received such favourable treatment--though Russell Little, one of two men convicted in the Foster murder, was eventually acquitted in a retrial in 1981. He [i]is[/i] one of the ones interviewed.
Groups like this frustrate me. They put so much effort into their bank robberies and their gun stockpiling. In fact, it was impulsive shoplifting on the part of member William Harris that indirectly caused the deaths of DeFreeze, Nancy Ling Perry, Angela Atwood, Willie Wolfe (after whom Stephen King named his infamous rabid dog--his [i]nom de guerre[/i] was Cujo), and Patricia Soltysik. The sequence of events is hard to follow and harder to believe, but it's true. Yes, the SLA got some poor people in California fed, but since the food distribution was poorly organized, the distribution in one area led to violence and all of it was shut down. Other than that, I am curious as to what anyone thinks they accomplished. The only member most people can name these days is Patty Hearst, and she has long since rejected their values if she ever really espoused them in the first place. Surely that effort could have been put to better use elsewhere.
If Hearst has never shown real remorse about her crimes, it's hard to consider the others to have done so, either. In the disc's special features, there is footage from the Sacramento courthouse where four of the SLA members pleaded guilty to the murder of bank teller Myrna Opsahl, killed in the Crocker Bank robbery, where Hearst allegedly drove the getaway car. William Harris expressed the opinion that putting him in prison wouldn't solve anything--possibly true--and that it was a great hardship on his family, even comparing it briefly to the hardship Opsahl's family suffered upon her death. It's really horrible. Even if they do feel remorse, none of them went out of their way to ensure that they would make amends to the family for it.
The thing is, wanting to end a war and supporting an enemy are not reliably the same thing. It's also not the same thing as not supporting our soldiers. There may well be overlap, but there isn't always. There are some people you can't convince of that--but there are always people who make it harder to try. This is, of course, true of both sides. On the one hand, you got the people who called Vietnam veterans baby-killers. The people who openly consorted with the North Vietnamese government and claimed that all stories of atrocities committed by the Viet Cong were exaggerations at best and probably flat-out lies. Those people polarized the debate. However, so did the people on the other side, the ones who declared that anyone opposed to the war was a traitor, the ones who claimed that all stories of atrocities committed by US soldiers were exaggerations and best and probably flat-out lies. There were, of course, nice, sane people on both sides of the debate, but, as in any contentious situation, it's the lunatic fringe that gets noticed.
[i]Hearts and Minds[/i] seems sane and rational, though I'm told the filmmaker, Peter Davis, read a message from the North Vietnamese government as part of his acceptance speech. So there's that. And it's certainly a biased film--the contrast of General Westmoreland explaining that "Orientals" don't place the same value on human life as Americans being intercut with a Vietnamese funeral and the grief connected to it kind of shows that, I think. Most of the film is intended to show the problems of our occupation of Vietnam. Many of those interviewed are veterans, but mostly the kind of veterans who were protesting the war. The few others are primarily used as contrast.
Now, Westmoreland claimed to have been quoted out of context, and there are those who say that Davis trapped him into making the statement. However, I have to say that I can't think of any context that would have made that statement less reprehensible. I also can't see how anything Davis said would have forced Westmoreland to make that kind of statement. Likewise George Coker, a former American POW, declares that Vietnam would be a very pretty country were it not for the people. Now, I can understand Coker's not being the most happy with the Vietnamese people, especially of course the North Vietnamese. On the other hand, he is committing the falacy of tarring the entire population of the country with the same brush.
It is also true, of course, that the film shows only the American atrocities. We see Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the famous girl photographed running naked down the street, horribly burned by napalm. (Richard Nixon, apparently, believed the photo, and presumably the film of the same event, to be faked.) We see that funeral. We hear veterans talk about the horrible things they saw. But we never actually hear Coker talk about what happened to him. We don't get told how either side treated their prisoners, really. We hear a lot about napalm, but nothing about the Hanoi Hilton. It is a biased film, though I'm kind of curious as to how much of popular culture at the time was biased the other way.
I will admit that I do not much approve of the Vietnam War in retrospect. To be fair, I wasn't there for it. The war is considered to have ended in 1975, more than a year before I was born. I'm not best thrilled with the current war, either, though I'm sure none of you are surprised by that. I like to think that we've gotten better at presenting an unbiased view of things, but I know that we haven't. Then again, hardly anyone in history ever has. We consider our current reporting of World War II to be unbiased, but how often do we consider the perspective of anyone but ourselves and Hitler?
And It Only Got Worse From There
For some reason, Rotten Tomatoes shows two versions of this movie, one of which is only some twenty-five minutes. I didn't think there was a twenty-five minute version of this, but it's clearly intended to be this movie--it has this movie's poster. I am, therefore, going to assume that it's screwed up in the way certain of the things in the review system are still screwed up even all this time after the "improvements" were put in place. I've come across similar problems several times, which leads to the fun, fun game of "now, where do I put this review?" IMDB, for example, goes directly to the page for this one if you enter its title into their search criteria. So if this review is in the wrong place, I'm sorry; blame the vagaries of the website.
At any rate. Filmmaker Emile de Antonio starts with the French occupation of Vietnam. He uses no narration, only primary sources. The imagery is complex and varied, though shown almost entirely from the US perspective. Even when people are speaking in favour of the North Vietnamese government, they are all Americans. This seems rather to make even the people speaking for the Vietnamese paternalistic, and the people speaking out about the Evil Communist, Ho Chi Minh, are obviously so. The phrase "the Free World" comes up with depressing regularity; there is, naturally, ranting Tailgunner Joe McCarthy. There are all sorts of the more determined Republicans interspersed with the Vietnamese dead, wounded, and captured, including a woman with distraught eyes and a group of Americans destroying rice rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
Now, it's good that de Antonio admits to his bias, because it's pretty obvious. (I note he's also done a movie about JFK and that ignorant idiot, Mark Lane.) However, I suspect he doesn't notice his bias toward American source material. There's an interview on the DVD wherein he says that the Vietnamese don't speak English, but obviously, some of them do and did. You get Americans saying how the Vietnamese tell them this or that, but no one seems to talk to actual Vietnamese people. I'm not saying the average Vietnamese person spoke English; at the time, the more popular second language was French, given how long the French were the invaders. However, there were certainly plenty of English-speaking Vietnamese, and there's probably stock footage of them.
There is this belief, in the US, that not wanting to be in a war means hating the people fighting in it. For some people, of course, the Military is a symbol of The Man and all that is evil with the world; we don't actually have to be at war for that to be true. However, I think most members of peace movements in any war are actually supportive of the actual people. There's the recurring theme of "support our troops; bring them home." How much body armour they had or needed wouldn't be an issue if they weren't somewhere getting shot at all the time. (Though studies indicate that hardly any soldiers actually fire their guns, not if they can avoid it.) However, I think that ties into an American need for all issues to be black and white. The reason a lot of Democrats are considered weak is that they're able to see more than one side of an issue. Also to change their minds upon further information, which we look down on as well.
The film cuts off in 1968. I am curious as to how de Antonio might have dealt with later developments. There is footage of a North Vietnamese prisoner being beaten, but I think John McCain would testify, has testified, that the North Vietnamese were not exactly nice to their own prisoners. (Indeed, John McCain was actually a POW when the film was made.) And, after driving the Americans out, the Vietnamese turned on their own, with purges not uncommon in Communist countries. There was Nixon's "secret plan" to get us out of Vietnam, so secret that he didn't tell his advisors. He shows the collapse of Dien Bien Phu; he does not mention that hardly any of the French soldiers survived to return to France. Slowly but surely, the American people turned against the war, and he doesn't really touch much on the anti-war movement anyway. It wouldn't mesh with his point, I suspect.
Lauren Bacall and Brian Krakow
First, let me tell you one thing--IMDB lies. Under "Filming Locations," it informs us that this was filmed (at least in part) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Wilshire Boulevard in LA. This is, I can most assuredly promise you, not true. At all. LACMA is housed in a very modern-looking building, I believe from the sixties, and looks nothing like the classic architecture of the museum presented herein. (Which is also not at all like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which it's implied to be and which it is in the book, but is obviously not because of how obviously the movie was filmed in LA and not New York.) I happen to know, in fact, that the long case the kids walk past a couple of times does not house art. In point of fact, it houses a coelocanth. This is because the museum shown isn't actually an art museum at all. It is the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, which is in a much lovelier building. The part of the building they show most often was built in 1913. I also happen to know that the entrance they show the kids using most often assuredly does not open onto the street. No entrance of the museum does; it's in the middle of a park. This is why the walk sign wobbles visibly. It's a fake.
Claudia Kincaid (Jean Marie Barnwell) feels put upon. This is largely because she very clearly is. She has two brothers, the older Steve (Devon Gummersall) and the younger Jamie (Jesse Lee Soffer), but it is Claudia who seems to do all the housework. One day, she decides she's had enough of this, and she makes up her mind to run away. She brings Jamie along as part of her plan, largely because the little bugger's such a cheapskate that he has managed to save up quite a lot of money. (In the book, it's about $24, but it's clearly much more here. Inflation, you know.) Claudia has decided that the best place to run away [i]to[/i] is the museum. There, she can live in comfort. There's no danger. There will be a roof over her head, it will be warm, and there will be access to all the amenities to which she is accustomed. Jamie, who wants to live in the woods, is hugely disappointed. (They'd have to travel an awful long way to get to the kind of woods he's imagining anyway.) However, when they get to the museum, Claudia becomes fixated on a statue of an angel that may or may not be the work of Michelangelo Buanarotti.
This is, frankly, a dreadful adaptation. Oh, I heartily approve of the casting of Lauren Bacall as the eccentric titular character, for all she's too beautiful still. Most of the rest of the casting is pretty good, too. However, for one, I am deeply annoyed that Mrs. Frankweiler puts in an appearance so soon in the movie. As in, before Claudia and Jamie. Admittedly, she's the narrator of the book, and Claudia knows about her quite early in their stay at the museum, but she doesn't physically appear in the book until (in my copy) page 125. Certainly the ridiculous scene where Jamie rescues her from stepping on gum in the museum is unnecessary. The angel looks nothing as described in the book, not least being that it's too big. (The quarry mark under the statue's missing the "M," too.) The children leave Mrs. Frankweiler's files a mess. There's the pointless addition of the nosy guard (M. Emmett Walsh), who seems to be on duty at all times. And the parents get too much time.
Honestly, the museum layout doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, as is not surprising given that none of the exhibits belong in that museum anyway. We pass on the notion of Amy Robsart's murder bed--it's so described in the book and may well be so described in the museum as well, for all it's ridiculous. Amy Robsart, first wife of Robin Dudley, fell or was pushed down a flight of stairs and did not die in bed at all. However, the contents seem all crowded together without any kind of order. The line to get into the museum and the line to see the most prominent new exhibit are the same line. The drawers and such of the furniture aren't fastened in any way, despite the fact that a museum director would know the public's insatiable interest in knowing what's in those drawers. Even though, logically, there shouldn't be anything. (Do they expect to see poor Amy Dudley's underwear?) Oddly, it seems implied that there are only two bathrooms in the place. Movie-Claudia also fails to note any possibility of security beyond the guards, who are frankly kind of incompetent.
I also happen to know that, at least at the time this was filmed--I understand there's been some remodeling since--one of the galleries was just one big vault which is sealed off at night. More than that, I'll admit, I don't know a lot about the security, and I suspect how museum security works now and how it worked in 1967, when the book was published, may well be different. Actually, I've walked the halls of that museum--and, as it happens, LACMA--over and over again. You see, my mom has memberships to both museums. I was pretty sure, early in the movie, that it was the natural history museum, but when they showed that lovely statue of three of the Muses, I knew. It's unmistakable. I have always loved that statue, ever since I was very small indeed, and it has always amused me how many cities they've pretended it's in over the years.
Disney Parenting Strikes Again
Gene Siskel walked out on three movies in his entire career; this was one of them. I present you with this fact in minor astonishment. Doubtless if we searched his past reviews, we could find much, much worse movies. Indeed, the relevant review does not appear to be available online, more's the pity, because I would really like an explanation. I have Roger's review around here somewhere, though it isn't on his website, either. People are more than willing to tell me that it's one of the three, and they're certainly willing to link me to his review of [i]Black Sheep[/i], the last of the three (you may have seen it before, when it was called [i]Tommy Boy[/i]), but I am unable to find an explanation on this one, just the bare fact. It perplexes me, because while I cannot in honesty call this a good movie, I've seen worse, and I've seen worse from Disney. Possibly there is worse from Dean Jones--I haven't seen [i]The Ugly Dachshund[/i] all the way through in some time. But no, this is it.
It is true that Our Hero, Professor Albert Dooley (Jones), is a rather unpleasant sort. When he was young, he dreamed of all he could accomplish, all the fame and glory due to an up-and-coming young scientist in the field of behavioural research, perhaps missing that there is very little glory in the field of behavioural research. At any rate, he is now married to Katie (the eternally dippy Sandy Duncan) and the father of a son, Jimmy (Lee Montgomery). It's not that he doesn't love them. It's that they're spending beyond his means. A friend of Jimmy's offers him a dog--for $50. Jimmy does not understand that this is more than the budget will stand--but Katie later says a dog can't eat more than a duck, so it probably runs in the family. At any rate, there is that duck, a former research animal in Albert's lab. It is stupid even for a duck. It fails its last test, and Albert takes it home rather than have it killed. Only the duck has been irradiated in such a way that it now lays golden eggs. Hilarity, poor spending habits, law-breaking, and bad parenting, in no particular order, ensue.
The thing is, Jimmy has one each of a type of bad parent. Because Katie is just so dumb, he can get away with a great deal. She is ferociously devoted to her child, and woe betide he who gets in her way, but she is still awfully dumb and pretty permissive. On the other hand, despite his claims that he and Jimmy are best friends, Albert seems more interested in his work and, later, the duck. Midway through the picture, Katie says that he should close the window, because it's getting cold in Jimmy's room and they don't want "him" to catch cold. Albert agrees, closes the window, and covers the duck. This is supposed to be the ultimate sign, I think, of how the idea of fabulous wealth has filled Albert's mind with avarice and made him have the wrong priorities. We are, for one, supposed to think of "Charlie" (the kid doesn't seem to get that only girl ducks lay eggs and refers to it as "he" throughout) as being just a kid's pet, but by age ten, I had a pretty clear view of being poor, and if I had a duck which laid golden eggs--well, the cats would have killed her. But you get the point.
More worrisome to me, actually, was that both women in this movie--and there are really only two--are total dingbats. Albert and his friend, Fred Hines (Tony Roberts), take it for granted that Katie can just go into a refinery office and inform them that the gold was laid by a duck, and while they'll think she's crazy, it won't seem out of character. She shows a minor trend for malapropism which seems just a kicker on her wackiness quotient. Similarly, we have Eunice Hooper (Virginia Vincent), wife of grumpy neighbour Finley Hooper (perpetually sour Joe Flynn), who cannot understand that there might be a cause for the reactions she sees her husband have. There are a couple of stupid teenagers (Arvin, played by Jack Bender, and Orlo, played by Billy Bowles), and they're good for a minor laugh in their hippie teenage ways, but mostly, we're laughing at Katie--there are no women who are not jokes.
You know, for all its failings, it's a harmless little movie, really. I don't think most people would even notice what is arguably anti-feminist subtext. And, of course, the Wadlow brothers are just Disney hippies, throwing the term "bigot" where it isn't appropriate because someone is doing something they don't like. Not to mention how they recklessly put Jimmy in danger, and not just by driving him around on their terrifying dune buggy. When I was seven, though, I thought this movie was incredibly funny--though I think I still recognized the stupid lack of foresight on the part of the Wadlows. If you look too closely, it's offensive, but if it were that which drove Gene out of the theatre, there should have been far more movies which did. It's dumb, but even without trying, you could produce a very long list indeed of even dumber movies between 1971 and 1999. (Notably [i]Black Sheep[/i]!) I honestly cannot determine any reason for the severely negative reaction which could not have been produced by dozens of other movies, often in similar combination to what we have here. Maybe he was just allergic to apples or duck feathers or something.