Arts: How a slice of Hollywood's feelgood factor helps cure the soul

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The Independent Online
The Wizard of Oz is therapeutic for children; Rebecca is prescribed for ailing marriages. Pretty Woman can help a girl with boyfriend problems. David Lister talks to Britain's first film therapist.

MGM, one of the world's biggest and best-known film studios, has asked a Hertfordshire therapist to endorse its classic children's film The Wizard Of Oz.

When the studio releases the film, digitally remastered on video this Christmas, it will come complete with a bill of health from the psychotherapist Bernie Wooder. MGM announced yesterday that Mr Wooder thinks The Wizard Of Oz "makes excellent viewing for responsible parents who are interested in the healthy emotional development of their children".

It is the first time a studio has commissioned a psycho- therapist, Britain's only film therapist, to endorse a film.

The report Mr Wooder sent to MGM, entitled "The Wizard Of Oz: As Seen From A Therapeutic Perspective", breaks down the Judy Garland film scene by scene and concludes that the cast is bursting with role models for children.

In Mr Wooder's words, "The Wizard Of Oz is a wonderful film because it shows that by being open and friendly to yourself and others, life can be happier ... They [the characters] are helpful role models for identifying those different parts of ourselves which are similar to these characters, ie woolly headed and unintelligent (Scarecrow), mechanical and going through the motions (Tin Man) and tense and frightened (Lion). It also portrays love and sharing in a joint quest."

At his clinic in Borehamwood near the old film studios at Elstree, Mr Wooder, 57, who is registered with the UK Council of Therapists, described yesterday how his love of films and use of them in treating depression and other problems, had changed his patients' lives.

"This is not a gimmick," he said. "I'm sure everyone can think of a film that has moved them in some way. It's the sense of why and where it has moved you which is the springboard from where we start.

"For example, I was working with someone who wanted commitment from her boyfriend and couldn't get it, and she wasn't going to shortchange herself. I got her to see the film Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts says: `I want the full commitment, I want the fairy tale.' She saw it over and over again.

"Then there was a businessman who came to me quite depressed. He was a workaholic, but every time he achieved a project it lost its original promise. It dated from his parents pushing him when he was young. I told him to see The Color Purple, the scene where Whoopi Goldberg is acknowledged publicly for who she was, a human being. That kind of acknowledgment was what he needed. He went to see it eight times and was convulsed with sobs. His energies were refocused. It changed his life."

Films that Mr Wooder particularly recommends for their therapeutic values include: It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewart, "brilliant for self- esteem"; Rebecca, "I recommend couples in second marriages who are having problems with one person feeling haunted by the shadow of a previous partner, to watch it together. It's a very good aid to communication".

Mr Wooder is now trying to persuade MGM to set up a "social concern division", devoted to putting out films that will help people. He said: "My mission is to get the whole perspective of viewing films and videos in a healing way."