The Cinema Therapy Newsletter
November 18, 2004
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I'm proud to announce that my new book, E-motion Picture Magic, is finally out in stores. Here's an excerpt from the forward, written by our collegue Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles and Director of the Media Psychology Research Institute:
Although research has shown film to be the premier emotion generator, research has also shown that books can explain and explore complex issues far more effectively than can films. In essence, film arouses and print elaborates. A wedding of film self-help books can offer the best of both media. This is what the field of cinema therapy has to offer a cinema-savvy society.
The book has been picked as a selection for the Bookspan/Behavioral Science Book Service book club. It is also available on Amazon.com.
I invite anyone interested in writing a book review of it to contact me.
I found this book review in the Journal of American Medical Association by Irving Schneider, MD, Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, DC, very interesting:
Jacqueline Noll Zimmerman, retired professor of English and film studies at a number of universities, sets out to combat the long history of stereotyping mental illness in movies in her aptly titled People Like Ourselves: Portrayals of Mental Illness in the Movies. The title recalls psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan’s dictum, “We are all much more simply human than otherwise, be we happy and successful, contented and detached, miserable and mentally disordered, or whatever.”1 Zimmerman describes more than 70 American movies, from Rebecca (1940) to A Beautiful Mind (2001). She always seeks the common humanity of the protagonists apart from their diagnosis, which is of secondary importance to her, and limits herself to movies that she believes treat mental illness sympathetically and honestly.
I also discovered another great new Web site that lists films: Really Good Films. Check out their DVD film club, too.
While you're at it, you might want to also take note of Gearld Peary's film review site, which I find very valuable.
I have planned a one-hour presentation at the Psychotherapy Institute on 3/4/05 in Berkeley, a movie evening at the annual CAMFT conference on 5/14/05 in San Jose, and a two-hour presentation at the monthly meeting of East Bay CAMFT in Berkeley on 6/10/04. These are all for therapists, or therapists in training.
I will facilitate a workshop for the general public in December at the Harbin Hotsprings. I will also hold a mini-workshop combined with a book-signing at the Change Makers book store in Berkeley on 1/7/05 as well as a five-day workshop at Hollyhock in Canada from 9/16 through 9/21/2005 for the general public. Please contact me for a list of upcoming book signings.
Our colleague Fritz Engstrom, MD, Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs, Brattleboro Retreat, Brattleboro, Vermont offered his latest seminar entitled Movies and the Mind: Film Clips to Teach and to Heal at the 12th Annual Santa Fe Symposium for Mental Health Professionals October 15-17, 2004. You can get information through New England Educational Institute (phone 413-499-1489, or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This article Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself by Rick Callahan, highlights research by Glenn Sparks at Purdue University into the effects of horror movies on audience members.
This article introduces the reader to cinema therapy and includes interviews with Dr. Lawrence Tyson, Ph.D., an associate professor of counselor education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and myself. It ran in the Acron Beacon Journal back in February but did not get mentioned in this newsletter.
An article about the recent spat of zombie movies that includes comments from me on identification with movie characters appeared in the Alameda Times-Star on Sept. 21 and in other syndicated newspapers. It is available to download here.
On Sept. 24, the Dallas Morning News carried a report about a local preacher, Bishop T.D. Jakes, famous for his books, TV shows and gospel music who is "putting out a movie about sexual abuse that he hopes will open a door to healing." The 90-minute movie, Woman, Thou Art Loosed, "is based on 'composites' of women Bishop Jakes has counseled. It tells the story of Michelle Jordan (Ms. Elise), whose life is a 'dark abyss of drugs, prostitution and prison,' the result of her having been sexually abused as a child by her mother's boyfriend." The article, available here, states that, "Some experts fear that such 'cinema therapy' could trigger painful memories for victims in an inappropriate setting, reopening psychological wounds rather than salving them." The film is apparently now out on DVD, according to the site, Really Good Films.
The great folks at the Spiritual Cinema Circle report in their August newsletter that they are "working on getting trailers from our inspiring movies on the in-flight menu, so all of you frequent-flyers will have something uplifting to watch on those long flights."
Producer: Richard Linklater, Anne Walker-McBay
Screenwriter: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Vernon Dobtcheff
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2004
Before Sunset is the sequel to Linklater's 1995 Before Sunrise, the tale of two strangers, a traveling Texan, Jesse, and a Parisian graduate student, Celine, who meet in Vienna on a train and spent an intoxicating evening together, walking, talking, and making love, before parting at sunrise. They didn't know each other's last names or addresses — they staked everything on that promise to meet again in six months.
Now, nine years later, Jesse is enjoying the success of his first book, a romantic novel based on their short romance. Celine shows up at his book signing in Paris. They begin to talk, initially modestly and awkwardly, as they walk through the city, before he must catch his flight back to his wife and young son in New York. A long dialogue, played in real time, follows.
A lot of the subject matter in their dialog deals with the bitterness and frustration that comes with failed relationships. Jesse confesses that, while he was on the way to his wedding, all he could think about was Celine. “I feel like I'm running a small nursery with someone I used to date,” is how he matter-of-factly sums up the condition of his marriage. Celine relates better to men when they “have careers that take them on the road”, like her present beau, a photographer.
Jesse is a New York intellectual: insightful, self-absorbed, and still wowed by art, literature, and culture. Celine is a passionate pessimist when it comes to world ecology, despairing about whether she makes a difference in her work for an environmental group.
Finally they admit that they should have taken each other's address and telephone numbers after their enchanted night in Vienna and discuss the reunion they had promised to have. It turns out that Celine's beloved grandmother died, and she was unable to be there. Jesse did show up and was heartbroken when she did not appear. Reaching a new low in his life, he explored Buddhism.
This first step allows them to slowly open up and reveal how rare it is to meet someone they feel an instinctive connection with. What they are really discussing, between the many words, is the possibility that they missed a life they would have wanted to spend together. Jesse eventually confesses that he wrote his book and came to Paris for a book signing because that was the only way he could think of to find her again. A little later, in a subtle moment of body language, she reaches out to touch him and then pulls back her hand before he sees it.
Celine’s gesture is symbolic for their interactions throughout the main part of the movie. As soon as one of them makes a tiny step toward emotional vulnerability, he or she gets scared and very soon “retreats” defensively again or becomes sarcastic. This wounds the other one, who closes down in response too. Their fear of emotional intimacy makes obvious why Jesse and Celine had been afraid to exchange numbers or addresses when they first met.
But the two recognize that in this second meeting stakes are higher: life's opportunities may now be fewer, or may have been missed altogether. A tug of suspense comes not only from his waiting plane to the US but also from the need to grab at chance and from the comparatively larger deadline of age. Jesse and Celine are finally able to stop playing protective games, reveil their deeper truths and plunge into the bottomless depth of their souls.
Before Sunset recognizes the obstacles that can be involved with love while showing two characters slowly realizing its preciousness and sanctity.
Before Sunset is an excellent movie to support the work with clients who fear vulnerability and intimacy.
My client, Cindy, felt confused and worried when she recently came to her session. The previous night she had become very angry with her boyfriend, John, and yelled at him. This led to a big fight. Now she felt bad because she understood that the small mistake he had made when they cooked dinner together did not justify her acting out that way. As we explored her reaction Cindy learned that the real reason for her response was her emotional hurt about his plans to leave the next morning for a two-week fishing trip with friends. This made her feel excluded and abandoned.
Toward the end of her session Cindy contemplated whether it would help to apologize, but she was afraid this would make her look stupid, needy, and weak. She believed that John might take advantage of her vulnerability, criticize her, or push her away. Then she would feel even worse.
I suggested to my client to watch Before Sunset and gave her the guidelines, which are mentioned below. I also explained that how we respond to different movie characters can show us who we are. We learn most from characters who touched us with their charisma, attitude, looks, demeanor, or actions. If we admire a certain capacity in a character, we usually carry a seed of this ability inside us. Nurturing this seed will help it grow.
When Cindy came back, a week later, she especially remembered the scenes in the movie where Celine and Jesse look like they put themselves emotionally out on a limb. My client commented that they appear emotionally vulnerable but not weak at all. In fact, they looked weak to her when they played their defensive games, and seemed courageous and strong when they were emotionally open and authentic.
The longer we talked about her viewing experience, the more Cindy felt inspired. She identified with Celine, especially with her glib, sarcastic, guarded, and distant attitude with which the character protects herself from being seen with her hurt feelings. Cindy admired Celine when she opens her heart and becomes genuine toward the end of the movie. My client stated ”What Celine demonstrates, I can do too”.
Cindy’s perception of her boyfriend changed as well. Remembering how the two movie characters affect each other, she realizes that John and she will have an opportunity to experience more emotional closeness as soon as she tells him the truth about the hurt she had felt beneath her anger and apologizes for her yelling.
Guidelines for clients who struggle with fear of emotional intimacy:
Keep the following questions in mind while you watch:
- What parts of the movie touch you most?
- What character do you most identify with and when?
- What enables Celine and Jesse to express their emotional truth eventually?
Questions after the movie:
- What makes you afraid of emotional intimacy (explore history)?
- What can you learn from Celine and Jesse?
- Can you imagine yourself with the courage to express the truth about your hurt and/or your love although you feel scared?
Coping With Death--
Shortly after my big brother Erick died at the age of 29, I saw a film about the premature death/murder of a young man. The film starred Brandon Lee (Son of Bruce Lee) as a character by the name of "Eric Draven". Although the film was sold as an "action genre" it intrigued me because of Brandon Lee's premature death on the set of this film as well as the premature death of the protagonist Eric Draven. At the end of that film, there was an interview with Brandon in which he spoke about life and death. In doing so, Brandon provided a quote from the book "Sheltering Sky". Below is an excerpt from that quote. The quote itself was something that was not only prophetic when one considers Brandon Lee’s sudden death shortly after he said this, but because, at the time, it was the most profound statement that I had ever heard. It was something that I really needed to hear at that time in my life because it put so many things into perspective for me! So much so, that to this day I feel that it has become a major part of who I am...
"Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well; and yet everything happens only a certain number of times - and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood? An afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise, perhaps twenty? And yet it all seems limitless."
I’d like to add that I now know that the potential of my life is limitless! In fact, I have yet to know my full potential! And so I will never cease to test it! For more info on the impact of this film on my life, please visit the following link: http://members.migente.com/e31arenas/.
I enjoy your website very much, and use it to enhance my teaching. You may want to include my recent book in your bibliography: Movie Clips for Creative Mental Health Education, published by Wellness Reproductions, New York City (1-800-669-9208) in April 2004. The book focuses on 3-5 minute scenes from popular movies, and how to find and use them with a variety of audiences. I have been giving some seminars based on the book, including a week-long seminar on Cape Cod a couple of weeks ago, and another 3-day one planned in Santa Fe in the fall. Keep up the good work.
--Fritz Engstrom, MD
Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs
I recently lost a sister to suicide. The movies that helped me heal were "Ponette". The emotions and the experience of a little girl who lost her mother were so similar to what I went through and it was a great movie and healing experience.
New York, NY
Thanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.
-Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT.,
Canyon, CA, USA
Moab, UT, USA