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Citizen Hearst

Ed Rampell: Was she coerced, brainwashed or a willing participant in the extremists’ violent crimes, which included shootouts, bank robberies and so on?
American Woman

DTLA FILM FESTIVAL Film Reviews

The 11th annual DTLA Film Festival is now underway. According to the Festival’s website: “Our programming reflects downtown L.A.’s vibrant new urbanism, the unique ethnic and cultural diversity of its neighborhoods, its burgeoning independent film community, its singular blend of late 19th and 20th century architecture, and the seminal role it played in the early days of American cinema (epitomized by the world’s largest group of vintage movie palaces located in the Broadway Theater District).”

DTLAFF is screening features, shorts, documentaries etc., at two primary locations: Regal L.A. LIVE 1000 West Olympic Blvd., L.A., CA 90015 while the Dome Series is at the Wisdome Immersive Art Park in DTLA’s Arts District, 1147 Palmetto St., L.A. or the Vortex Dome Theater at L.A. Center Studios. Panels, parties, etc., are being presented at various Downtown L.A. locations. For info on the DTLA Film Festival see: https://www.dtlaff.com/.

American Woman Film Review

The curiously named American Woman is the latest screen iteration to explore the tragic, strange saga of Patty Hearst, the heiress abducted by the terrorist Symbionese (whutevah that was?) Liberation Army in the 1970s. Toronto-born Sarah Gadon, who has scored a number of Canadian acting accolades and has acted in 2013’s Belle and HBO’s True Detective series in 2019, depicts the alter ego for Patty, herein named Pauline.

The Thai-born Hong Chau - a Spirit Award co-winner for 2014’s Inherent Vice and Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress nominee for 2017’s Downsizing, who now plays Lady Trieu in the great new Watchmen HBO series - portrays Jenny in American Woman. Herself a fugitive - wanted for bombing a government office to protest the Vietnam War - Jenny joins Pauline in hiding and goes on the lam with her. For her portrayal of the radical activist Chau won the DTLAFF’s Best Actress in a Leading Role award.

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Jenny is based on Wendy Yoshimura, who was born in the Manzanar Internment Camp during World War II. No wonder the Japanese-American protested the Vietnam War, with its aggression against Asians. American Woman focuses on Jenny/Wendy’s relationship with Patty/Pauline. Although the SLA were involved in rather spectacular shootouts, there isn’t much action in this low-budget feature, which donates a token amount of money to anti-gun organizations for each appearance of guns onscreen, according to the closing credits.

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Was she coerced, brainwashed or a willing participant in the extremists’ violent crimes, which included shootouts, bank robberies and so on?

The film ponders whether Pauline remained a kidnap victim or evolved into an SLA terrorist? Was she coerced, brainwashed or a willing participant in the extremists’ violent crimes, which included shootouts, bank robberies and so on?

The Hearsts are, of course, no newcomers to the silver screen. The media tycoon William Randolph Hearst was fictionalized in Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. Patty’s dramatic story has been the subject of numerous films, starting with Otto Preminger’s 1975 movie bearing a very Hearst-related title, Rosebud, which seemed inspired by Patty’s odyssey. In 1988’s Patty Hearst Paul Schrader in part adapted Patty’s own book, with Natasha Richardson as Patty and Jodi Long as Wendy. Patricia Hearst herself parlayed her notoriety into becoming an actress, notably appearing in various John Waters’ comedies.

80-something Ellen Burstyn, co-star of 1973's The Exorcist and Best Actress Oscar winner for 1974's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, has a cameo. The 85-minute American Woman is the directorial debut of Semi Chellas, who was previously nominated for five Emmys for her work on the MAC TV series Mad Men. The feature’s director of photography, Gregory Middleton, won DTLAFF’s first-ever Zeiss Cinematography Awards for best feature, winning $2,500, which it was announced he’d donate to worthy causes. Both he and Chau were not present to accept their awards because they were out on location shooting Watchmen.

A notable thing about American Woman is that it was co-made by Abigail Disney’s Level Forward. It’s interesting to point out that Ms. Disney shares something in common with Ms. Hearst (although I don’t for a second mean to remotely imply she’s involved with crime or terrorism in any way): Both are heiresses of fortunes from ruling class families involved with media who are linked to left/progressive causes. Level Forward is dedicated to producing and financing socially conscious films and plays.

In a Q&A after American Woman’s screening at the Regal L.A. LIVE Theater 13 Chellas said she has “always been drawn to stories about outlaws.” And Jenny/Wendy and Pauline/Patty were certainly two American women who exemplified living outside the law.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

For info: https://www.dtlaff.com/film/american-woman/170/.

L.A.-based film historian/criticEd Rampell is co-author/author of four movie film history books, including “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” (see: https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/ ).