Hostage-taking drama was of film quality

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A few years ago, what must have been a cadre of bored stoners discovered that if you turned off the audio portion of "The Wizard of Oz" movie and queued up Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," the scenes and the music will line up perfectly for the length of the album. I've never done it, but it sounds plausible.

It would be surprising if art didn't often travel in synchronous orbits. Artists, even while expressing themselves in different mediums, influence each other. Being separated by decades means nothing.

Then there's the cliche "art imitates life." Most crime shows wouldn't exist if TV writers weren't so shameless about recycling stories ripped from the proverbial headlines. Maybe that's why so much television, with its penchant for formulaic dramas and reality programming, feels like echoes of stuff we originally turned to the medium to escape.

By the time Friday's six-hour standoff between Klein Michael Thaxton and the Pittsburgh police came to an end, many of us were already comparing it to movies and television shows we've seen a thousand times.

News crews began transmitting live feed from behind yellow police tape shortly after the drama began that morning. When police officials periodically emerged with morsels of information, they were immediately surrounded by reporters who moved in unison like schools of fish.

Perhaps the ubiquity of those news cameras combined with the heavily militarized police presence created the heady, giddy feeling that permeated the Golden Triangle that day. Maybe the proximity of danger -- Mr. Thaxton was initially believed to have explosive material in his possession -- contributed to the odd, carnivalesque atmosphere.

It didn't occur to me that we were witnessing a remake of Sidney Lumet's 1975 bank-heist-gone-wrong film "Dog Day Afternoon" until a colleague showed me Mr. Thaxton's Facebook page.

Mr. Thaxton made a point of updating his status that morning even as the drama unfolded. "Give up before you hurt someone or get killed yourself," many of his newly minted friends advised him. Others were less inclined toward encouraging a nonviolent outcome: "Why don't you poop out the window" another Facebook commentator snarked.

His connection to the public was reminiscent of a scene in "Dog Day Afternoon" where crowds of sympathetic New Yorkers chanted "Attica" with Al Pacino's character, Sonny Wortzik, a Vietnam veteran, as he taunted police who had amassed by the hundreds to arrest him.

For their part, the Pittsburgh police grew annoyed that the 22-year-old Army veteran was more engaged with social media than he was with a police negotiator. They eventually cut his Internet access so he would be forced to concentrate on getting out of the situation alive.

Just like in "Dog Day Afternoon," Mr. Thaxton's wailing mother was brought to the scene to put pressure on him to surrender. Just as Sonny rejected his mother's tearful entreaties in the movie, Mr. Thaxton did likewise, while also insisting that his "girlfriend," a woman who hadn't seen him in four years, be brought to the scene.

In the movie, Leon, Sonny's preoperative transexual lover, was not successful in convincing the Vietnam veteran to give up, but in real life, Jenauba Lipford convinced Mr. Thaxton to surrender without a shot being fired.

When the handcuffed Mr. Thaxton was hustled out of the building by burly, smiling police, he mugged for the cameras. He was lucky to be alive and he knew it. To those who were already casting the movie roles, it was obvious that Wyatt Cenac, a correspondent on "The Daily Show," is the only one in Hollywood who could do Mr. Thaxton justice.

While reading the riveting stories and sidebars in the paper on Saturday, I found myself sympathizing with Mr. Thaxton more than I thought I would. All indicators are that he's probably suffering from mental issues that predate his military service. Serving in the military may have exacerbated it.

In the movie, Sonny constantly reminds the police that he was traumatized by his stint in 'Nam. Klein Thaxton's very strange hostage drama may be a case of life following art a little too closely.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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