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Primal Screen Therapy

Authors Nancy Peske and Beverly West say that movies are the best medication for women facing the kind of mood crisis a breakup or a bad- hair day can bring.


Movie ticket inflation wouldn't be nearly as upsetting if a trip to the cinema were seen as providing more than mere entertainment. Nancy Peske and Beverly West, coauthors of "Cinematherapy: The Girl's Guide to Movies for Every Mood" (Dell Publishing, 1999), believe that films transcend escape. They are, in fact, a potent form of self-medication. And everyone knows that good medicine doesn't come cheap.

Their concept is that the right movie can enhance or alter a mood. The New York-based authors, who are cousins and years ago learned from their shared grandmother the healing powers of a rainy-day matinee, consider a woman's right to have moods as inalienable, protected by the Constitution. In contrast, they say, men would have no use for their own guide, since they know only two moods: on and off.

AMC's Romance Classics has spun the idea into a television show called "Cinematherapy," which features two uninhibited female hosts discussing the therapeutic value of a classic film during a number of breaks.

Say a mood has been brought on by a bad-hair day. The end of a romance. A phone call from your mother. Or PMS. Fear not, say Peske and West; there's a movie to cure what ails you. Sometimes, the soothing a movie provides is obvious. Hate your sister? The authors suggest you watch "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane." The psychic wounds many other films address can be more subtle. Take Cinematherapy's views on some of this year's Oscar-nominated pictures, for example:

"The Insider" has already won the Cinematherapy Best Men Behaving Well award, for Russell Crowe's role as a corporate whistle-blower.

"This kind of film can be therapeutic for a woman who's been kissing a lot of frogs," West said. "It reminds her that there are still good guys around."

Angelina Jolie earned the Cinematherapy Best Bad Girl honor for her turn in "Girl, Interrupted."

"She's Bette Davis bad in that movie," Peske said. "Since the days of Bette, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford, women have taken a big step backward. Bad girls used to be much badder on screen, and they weren't even punished. Angelina Jolie is a good reminder to all of us that in order to be really sane, you have to be a little crazy. And really bad."

"Boys Don't Cry" is this year's Best Copious Weeper, according to the Cinematherapy judges.

"It's a story about true love and unfulfilled promise," West said. In the authors' view, a 10-hankie movie is great medicine for a woman who either wants to wallow in her pain, or would benefit from feeling not so bad off, compared with the pitiable people on the screen. "The Green Mile" is cited as another top-notch weeper. West said, "It's about someone who's so hypersensitive that he'd rather face the electric chair than live in a world where people forget to send you a birthday card. It's one you'd want to watch when you're feeling the need to get some of that excess irrigation out."

The year's Best Dysfunctional Romance winner is "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

"When you're in the midst of a terrible relationship, it's fun to watch someone else make a worse mess than you have," West said. "That movie is a dysfunctional feast. When I want to appreciate the man in my life, I watch 'Sid and Nancy.' "

The Oscar handicapper's front-runner for best picture, "American Beauty," is the recipient of the Cinematherapy Best Hearing Your Inner Voice Movie. Peske suggests it be watched by someone who needs to embrace life.

"There's nothing like a dead guy to remind you to live life to the fullest, and to listen to the song in your heart, while it's still beating," she said.

If the "Cinematherapy" authors ran their own, women-only video store, they'd organize it by ailment. There would be Bad Hair Day shelves, stocked with films in which wallflowers, chronic neurotics, falling-down drunks and other bad-hair babes manage to land the leading man anyway. ("While You Were Sleeping" or "When a Man Loves a Woman.") That section would be right near the Working Girl Blues area, where exemplars of the genre such as "Nine to Five," "Working Girl," "Norma Rae" and "Baby Boom" hold that some women have worse jobs than you do, and the workaday dreams of others do come true.

The centerpiece of the Cinematherapy "I Know She's My Mom, but She's Driving Me Nuts" section, frequented by women with mother-daughter issues, is a trio of Shirley MacLaine movies: "Postcards from the Edge," "The Turning Point" and "Terms of Endearment." Audrey Hepburn movies are recommended for women in need of a lift and for whom retail therapy isn't an option.

West admits to an affinity for romantic revenge movies.

" 'Shirley Valentine' is great when you think you're unappreciated. It's the story of a middle-aged British woman who walks out on her husband and goes to Greece. Whenever my reality is feeling a little flat, I like Merchant-Ivory movies like 'Room With a View.' All those films where a girl goes off to Italy and meets a driver with a great butt never fail to cheer me up. On a bad day, just give me some empty calories and one of those Repressed Woman Gets Unleashed stories for mood management."

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