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Moving Images: Psychoanalytic Reflections of Film by Andrea Sabbadini

June 10th, 2016 — 4:12pm

The following is a book review which I wrote and  appeared in Psychodynamic Psychiatry Volume 41 Number 3  Fall 2016 p 162-166Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 3.49.26 PM

Moving Images: Psychoanalytic Reflections of Film, by Andrea Sabbadini, Routledge, London and New York, 2014, 140 pp.

While reading this book, I kept pondering the question of who would be the best audience for it. The author, Andrea Sabbadini, is a psychoanalyst who is extremely knowledgeable about film, especially classic European movies. His stated goal for the book is to offer discussion of films from a psychoanalytic perspective and in the process of doing so, to use the films in order to illustrate a number of psychoanalytic ideas and to convey a sense of what analytic work consists. Anyone who is familiar with many of the movies discussed in this book and understands psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory would be the ideal audience for it. However, even knowledgeable psychoanalysts with out having seen these films would find it difficult to relate to the book. Similarly, students of cinema who may have seen the films mentioned, would probably get lost in the erudite psychoanalytic discussion presented in this book. Unfortunately, that would seem to leave a very small audience for this book. However, I do see an important value for it which I will discuss at the conclusion of this review.

This 140-page soft-covered book has six chapters which I will list below with two of the several movies discussed in each chapter.

Chapter 1: “A Young Profession: Films on Psychoanalysis” Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945)
Il Postino (Radford, 1994)

Chapter 2: “…and the Oldest One: Films on Prostitution” Nights of Cabiria (Fellini, 1957)
Belle de Jour (Buñuel, 1967)

Chapter 3: “The Young Ones: Films on Children” The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)
German Year Zero (Rossellini, 1948)

Chapter 4: “…and Slightly Older Ones: Films on Adolescents” Heavenly Creatures (Jackson, 1994)
City of God (Meirelles, 2002)

Chapter 5: “Between Eros and Thanatos: Films on Love” A Pornographic Affair (Fonteyne, 1999)
Amores Perros (Inarritu, 2000)

Chapter 6: “Watching Voyeurs: Films on Scopophilia” Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)

The book opens with a discussion of films about psychoanalysis in which the author touches on how the psychoanalytic profession has been depicted in numerous movies, including a mention of the television series In Treatment (2010). There are several flms discussed in this chapter where Freud himself, and other well known analysts, were depicted. We also learned that Freud showed very little interest in the movies of his day and stated in a letter that he did not believe psychoanalytic ideas could be represented by cinema. Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, which starred Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, is described in this chapter as perhaps the most famous of all films about psychoanalysis. Sabbadini spends five pages discussing this film and how this whodunit movie included discussion of dream analysis, anxiety inducing situations, psychopathic devices of amnesia (repression), and guilt complexes. There is also a discussion of how the camera work, light effects, sound track, and editing create the dream-like psychological atmosphere that the director wished to achieve. In the movie Il Postino, Sabbadini justifies that while it is not actively about the psychoanalyst or analysand, the close relationships that gradually develop between Marino, the postman, and Neruda, the poet, shared many features with what normally takes place in our psychoanalytic consulting rooms.

In the chapter about films and prostitution, the author reviews the social complexities surrounding the selling and buying of sexual favors for money. He even considers a common fantasy that there is a close association between prostitution and psychoanalysis. He uses Fellini’s movie, Nights of Cabiria, to discuss the concept of a rescue fantasy. Fetishism and masochism are also analyzed in this chapter in some detail. Catherine Deneuve’s character Severine in Belle de Jour is examined and at one point the author even postulates that the house of prostitution is the metaphoric antithesis of marriage and has the unconscious function of keeping the latter alive and with it the normality it symbolizes.

Chapter three is the longest chapter and discussed fillms about children, which should not be surprising coming from a psychoanalyst who appreciates the importance of early life experiences. The Spirit of the Beehive was an internationally acclaimed film which was described as dealing with innocence, illusions, and isolation. It focuses on two young girls growing up in the Spanish countryside. This movie deals with the fantasy that they have of monsters which occurs after they see the classic horror movie Frankenstein. This certainly can be related to contemporary young women who are constantly bombarded with such horror films. The author examines how the two children’s fantasy world and magical thinking is skillfully explored by this movie movie. The film Germany Year Zero approaches children in a completely different manner. Rosselini visited postwar Germany in 1947 apparently without any story to tell but trying to answer his own troubled question, “The Germans were human beings like everyone else. What could have led them to this disaster?” Sabbadini describes how this film develops the answer to this question from the point of view of children as they find themselves forced by circumstances to behave like adults.

It is only natural that the author progresses to the next chapter and discusses films on adolescents. He tries to put a perspective on child development theory by noting that it is only in the course of the last 30 or so years that a radical shift has taken place in relation to our understanding of adolescence. One of the films which he focuses on in this chapter is Heavenly Creatures where two adolescent girls, when not immersed in their fantasies, would become obsessed with a plan to murder the mother of one of them. This movie is actually based on the diaries of a person in a real life event which took place in New Zealand. Sabbadini describes how the film attempts to show the conflict between adults and adolescent children. The Oedipus complex and “passing phases of homosexuality” are some of the themes analyzed in this movie. Another film discussed in this chapter is City of God which is also based on an actual event that happened in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and 1970s. It looks at the role of young people in the Brazilian slums and is described as a “part tender Coming of Age film and part Gang-Warfare Epic.” The author uses this film to further expound on Oedipus theory.

Chapter 5 tries to look how the cinema often tackles issues of love. The author notes how films have explored most variations of this theme often throwing new light on the more bizarre and unusual aspects of it rarely considered anywhere else. He also states that psychoanalysis has done likewise focusing more often on the pathological deviant or perverse side of it rather than the so-called normal one. Sabbadini uses A Pornographic Affair and the relationships of the two characters Elle and Lui to study the deeper emotional meaning of their liaison. He discusses psychoanalytic constructs to understand them such as triangular constellations, regressive tendencies, voyeuristic fantasies (of the audience), and the unseen pornographic components of the main characters’ love affair. Sabbadini returns to the concept of the rescue fantasy as he then analyzes the Mexican film, Amores Perros. This movie consists of three stories which he tells us involve transgressive passion and almost intolerable violence as well as profound humanity. He breaks down each story and explains and interprets the fantasies involved. He explains how he feels that there is a universal fantasy and an important emotional complex both in the conscious and unconscious and that it is often related to primary narcissism.

In the final chapter titled “Watching Voyeurs, Films on Scopophilia” perhaps the most interesting chapter in the book. Sabbadini recognizes the cinema goer or film lover as a voyeur and he quotes Freud stating that the scopophilia drive is autoerotic. Therefore the movie-going experience is a source of both voyeurism and exhibitionism. By bringing the viewers into the equation, he is in a sense recognizing one of the analyst’s most powerful instruments and that is a recognition and utilization of our countertransference. One of the examples that he uses is Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In this film, through one of the main characters played by James Stewart, we watch through his rear window, what goes on in an apartment house opposite his home. Sabbadini discusses that what we see through the voyeur’s eye is a projection of our own desires. He also describes this movie as a dream. He goes on to use Freud’s essays on the theory of sexuality to analyze the movie and also brings in the witch hunts of the McCarthy era which were occurring when the film was made and he believed may have influenced it. There is no shortage of films for Sabbadini to use to further explore this topic. He analyzes the film Peeping Tom which allows him to discuss an array of different forms of deviant sexuality, psychopathology, scopophilia, obsessions with pornography, and sadism, not to mention a further description of the presence of a deep depression underlying everything else.

I believe that the real value of this book will be as a textbook for the study of the cinema from a psychoanalytic point of view. A group of psychoanalytically minded people could choose one of the films mentioned in this book for each group discussion and view it individually or together prior to a discussion of it. They could consider the observations and the thoughts of Sabbadini as well as their own reactions and interpretations of the film viewed. One person could lead the discussion of each film. Since most members of such a group would likely not have previously seen most of these films, this would enable them to now view them and participate in a study of them. I am sure these films are readily available on Netflix.

A second group that may want to use this book as a guide to understanding the films discussed in it might be film students or people who enjoy classic films. Assuming that most of these people who join such a discussion group would not be psychoanalytically trained, the leader or guide for such a discussion group could be a psychoanalyst who is skilled at explaining these concepts as they apply to this film, to a lay audience. The students in such a class would already have a keen interest in how movies convey psychological issues and would value seeing this film again (or for the first time) and would most likely be very receptive to having the meaning put in a psychodynamic and psychoanalytic context. Once again this book would be a marvelous textbook for the leader and the group to use after they have seen the film under discussion.

Comment » | MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry, Uncategorized

Compelling Evidence by Steve Martini

March 31st, 2016 — 11:56am

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.40.10 AMCOMPELLING EVIDENCE  – by Steve Martini

Published in 1992

A friend of mine mentioned that he is a big fan of Steve Martini who has written 13 bestselling novels in which the main character is a lawyer and has some very exciting courtroom scenes. Since I have enjoyed a few of John Grisham’s novels and I am always drawn to a movie or a TV program with a good courtroom action, I decided to explore this series. I chose Martini’s second novel and the first one in the 13 published books that has this main character, attorney named Paul Madriani.

Compelling Evidence was published in 1992. It did not disappoint me. The author opened the story with a detailed and what appeared to be a very knowledgeable description of a prisoner being executed in a gas chamber as a death penalty was being carried out.

The story progressed as the reader was introduced to Paul Madriani. It was through his eyes that we view this captivating story. It puts the legal profession front and center as just about all the characters are lawyers. The victim of the current case in point is Ben Porter, a honcho of a large successful law firm. His wife, Talia is his accused murderer of him. We learn early in the story that Mr. Madriani had once worked at the Porter Law Firm and even had an affair with Talia. Mr. Madriani ultimately becomes her chief defense attorney and so the plot develops.

All the characters and details of this story are woven together quite skillfully. Although there is a lot of “lawyer talk”, the readers’ knowledge and background is never taken for granted. Through the narrative and the dialogue, we are always kept in the loop and are well-educated. We meet the district attorney and his staff and we clearly understand their role as well as the role and obligation of the police who had investigated the crime. When we are introduced to the judge, we not only appreciate his role and obligations but also get insight into his personal issues (he does not want anything to go wrong because a mistrial would reflect badly on him). We are not only given a good description of what is happening when there are various motions but we gain insight into the various opposing forces of this legal battle and what they are trying to accomplish. We come to understand the basic legal tenets of why no one accused of a crime is expected to take the stand to testify and how a jury is strictly instructed not to hold such a refusal against them.

Reading this novel is like taking a class in law school except we are caught up in the plot that rivals a TV courtroom or movie story. I must admit that we also were given a dose of cynicism from the author’s experience. For example the statement that popped up at an appropriate place threw me for a loop. Cases are won or lost not on the truth but in the predominance of perjury attended by witnesses on the stand who lie with impunity and then walk away. Shortly later, the author stated The law is no instrument for divining the truth.

In the end, I had a very enjoyable and educational experience. This 1992 novel was Steve Martini’s first novel in this series and I understand the fourteenth book is due out in May of 2016, I cannot help wondering if the author may have even raised his game with additional novels under his belt.

1 comment » | FL - Fiction Legal, FM - Fiction Mystery, Uncategorized

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

February 13th, 2016 — 12:15am

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.52.38 PMThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

This is a sequel to The Rosie Project by the same author which in my opinion did not add anything to the first book. The main character, Don Tillman, a professor of Genetics from Australia who now is working at Columbia Medical School in New York has married Rosie, a combination PhD and medical student, who was the object of his attention in the first book. Rosie is now pregnant and Don’s reaction to this situation occupies much of the attention in this sequel. As we previously noted, I think it is fair to say that Don has a condition that might be called Asperger’s syndrome. He is obviously a very brilliant man who is extremely logical and analytical but he doesn’t quite get the meaning of feelings and emotions although he does clearly love Rosie. Don will make a spreadsheet to analyze any problem. Think Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Rosie is concerned whether Don will be able to relate to their impending child (designated at BUD for baby under development).

In an attempt to gain insight and understanding of young children, Don attempts to shoot some videos of children playing in the park. This leads him to be picked up in the park by the police for suspected pornographic intentions. This develops some interesting storylines that are clever but not brilliant enough in my opinion to become a page turner. For the most part, the author seems to be going over the same ground as in the first book. Don’s way of thinking is logical and seemingly without any psychological defenses. He says what he thinks and this allows for insightful if not amusing comments. He has a few loyal friends which allow some focus on interesting ideas about infidelity and friendship bonds between these guys. Every new character who appears in the book is described by Don by his analysis of their BMI (body mass index) which is amusing but wears thin after a while.

The first book, The Rosie Project presented an original character through whom the author could reflect on many human foibles. The author developed a base of loyal readers who might be expected to embrace the return of this character in The Rosie Effect. For me, the first book was good enough.

1 comment » | FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance, Uncategorized

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

January 21st, 2016 — 10:26pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 2.17.50 PMThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough

We all know that two wrongs don’t make a right. So when I showed my 9-year-old granddaughter this book that I was reading and asked her if she knew what it was about, she gave me the riddle, “What do two rights make?” An airplane of course.

David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author for Truman and John Adams has taken on two additional American heroes, Wilbur and Orville Wright. McCullough had a trove of documents to work on, mostly now residing in the Library of Congress and in museums in the Wright Brothers hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Obviously there were no instant messages, iPhones, or e-mail correspondence during their lifetimes and like many of their contemporaries, they wrote numerous letters and kept extensive diaries. McCullough mined these sources as well as the newspapers and magazines of that era.

Wilbur was four years older than Orville. They had two older brothers and a younger sister and there were two twins born in between Orville and Wilbur who died at birth. Their father was a Bishop in the Church of the United Brethren of Christ who traveled a great deal. Their mother, who it was said to had given them their mechanical ability, died three years before their first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1902. The family was very close and supported each other. Katharine, the sister, who was a teacher shared very much in the Wright Brothers’ success and traveled with them at the time that they received worldwide acclaim.

Perhaps it is a screen memory (an unconscious one constructed in retrospect) but the brothers recalled their father bringing home a toy for them when they were quite young which was a helicopter which flew with twisted rubber bands and suggested that this possibly was the origin of their interest in flying. A first-grade teacher remembers Orville sitting at his desk with bits of wood and telling her he was making a machine of a kind that he and his brother would fly someday.

Wilbur and Orville were obviously extremely bright although they never went to college. They opened a print shop while in high school and went on to open a bicycle store where they made and sold bicycles. This was the environment in which they began working on a flying machine.

McCullough traces with the accuracy of the historian that he is, each step of the Wright Brothers journey. Initially building a glider and then the development of intricate wings that could do special movement that the brothers meticulously developed. He describes the addition of the motor and propeller. We learned about the people throughout the world who were trying to be the first in flight and their relationship with the Wright Brothers. This book focuses mainly on an approximate a 10-year period from Kitty Hawk to the glorious flights in Paris and New York.

Overall, there seemed to be great camaraderie between the various pioneers of flight throughout the world with the Wright Brothers. However, there were some conflicts and some patent disputes that the Wright Brothers had with other flyers of the day. Ultimately, there was tremendous acclaim for the Wright Brothers. I think it is worth quoting the words of President Taft upon presenting the Wright Brothers with some awards in the White House. He said:

I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done.I am so glad perhaps at a delayed hour to show that in America it is not true that “a prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctly American – by keeping your noses right at the job until you have accomplished which you had determined to do.

According to McCullough there was rarely friction between the Wright Brothers themselves. They were a well oiled team who understood each others’ strengths and worked very smoothly together. While their relationship was detailed very clearly, what seemed to be missing was their personal lives. Either the author chose not to include any special social interactions or there essentially were none. It is hard to believe that there is no mention of any girlfriends or romantic interests. When Wilbur died in 1912 at the age of 45, Orville and his sister Katherine moved into a new house with their father. Orville became involved in their business details which now were quite complicated as the famed inventor. When at the age of 59 his sister decided to get married, Orville was reported to be very disturbed and negative about her plan which she carried out anyway.

I, probably like most of you, take flying for granted. I am more concerned about the arrival time, legroom, and how I should occupy myself during the flight. David McCullough’s book provides an unforgettable tribute to the brothers from Dayton, Ohio who made all of our flights possible.

 

Comment » | B - Biography, HI - History, T - Recommended for Teenagers, Uncategorized

Season Of The Witch by David Talbot

June 23rd, 2015 — 4:41pm

SEASON OF THE WITCH BY DAVID TALBOTScreen Shot 2015-06-15 at 10.18.45 AM

If you have ever lived in San Francisco (as I did for one year in 1965) or perhaps visited the city and have fallen under its magical spell then this book is for you. This is especially true if your connection occurred between the 20-year period of 1965 to 1985. This may also apply if you identify with the social movements or news events that originated or were closely connected to The City by the Bay.

Here is a partial list of the fascinating people, places and events that were described in great detail in this very interesting book:

Haight-Ashbury, giving birth to the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Human Be In, the Hippy Revolution, Summer Of Love.

Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, Runaway Children, Beatnik Society, Free Clinic, rock concerts, and Bill Graham.

San Francisco Chronicle, Herb Caen, Mobey Grape, Openly Gay Community, The Cockettes, Finnochios, STD, LSD, CIA, Susan Atkins, Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, Hell’s Angels, Rolling Stones, and Mick Jagger.

Joseph L. Alioto, Good Earth, Vincent Hallinan, SLA (Symbinese Liberation Army), Cinque, Bill Harris, Patty Hearst, Zebra Murders, Zodiac Serial Killer, Asian Law Caucus. Margo St. James, Hookers Liberation, Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey.

George Moscone, Harvey Milk, Dianne Feinstein, Willie Brown, People’s Temple, Jim Jones, Jonestown, Guyana, Dan White , assassinations at City Hall, Edward DeBartolo, Joe Montana, Bill Walsh, HIV and the AIDS epidemic.

Although this book leaves at the end of the AIDS epidemic, we know this is just 20 years of a small but important part of the history of this great city. David Talbot, in my opinion, has earned the title of Story Teller Supreme for San Francisco. He told it like it was and what a story it has been and continues to be.

At the conclusion of this book, we are also treated to a section with photographs of some of the important players in the history of this great city that were described. These photos and the narration that accompanies, each one of them are a special dessert to the great meal this book has been.

Comment » | HI - History, Uncategorized

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Guest Review by Leo Blumenfield (10 Years Old)

February 16th, 2014 — 12:09pm

Wonder by RJ PalacioI decided to read this book because I had heard it was a very emotional and wonderful book from multiple people. This book is very inspiring and very different because it is written thoughtfully and caring through the eyes of someone you don’t see every day. Auggie, the main character, who feels like any other ordinary little boy inside, isn’t seen the same way by everybody else because he has a deformed face. Auggie has always been homeschooled and this book is about Auggie’s journey through his first year attending a real school—middle school. It is probably bad enough to be a new kid, let alone having a deformed face and being at a real school for the first time in your life—well imagine it would be like for Auggie.

            What I really liked about Wonder is that the author, R.J. Palaciodid a great job of capturing Auggie’s perspective and she also showed the perspectives of other people in Auggie’s life by telling the story from the views of other people in Auggie’s life. I recommend this book because it really makes the sadness, happiness, enjoyment, pleasure, and emotion come to life in the reader’s eyes and in the character’s eyes. I recommend this book to people who like to see real life—both the hardships and the happy moments.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, T - Recommended for Teenagers, Uncategorized

Deadline Artists Edited by John Avlon, Jesse Angelo & Errol Louis

March 22nd, 2013 — 9:45pm

Deadline Artists – Edited by John Avlon, Jesse Angelo & Errol Louis9781590204290_p0_v1_s260x420

Do you have a favorite newspaper columnist whom you often read? Do you occasionally pass on a newspaper column that you have read to a friend? (or these days might it be a great blog?)Well, imagine if you had a chance to read some of the best columns that have been written over the past two hundred years. That is exactly what the editors of this book have offered us as they compiled what they believe are the best of the best. They did this by going to many sources and experts including some contemporary writers and asked them to suggest their favorites over the years. They divided the book into sections such as social issues, war, politics. humor, sports etc. Some columnists that may be familiar depending on your age are Nora Efron, Jimmy Breslin, Drew Pearson, Teddy Roosevelt and even Benjamin Franklin, Some of the chosen columnists are still writing such as Thomas Friedman.  You may know some of them as great authors and may not have realized that they started as newspaper writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Some of the pieces are classics such as the famous column which is reprinted in many newspapers every year whch starts off- “ Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” There are works by legendary sportswriters such as Grantland Rice’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There is  Ernie Pyle writing about the average soldier from the war front during WWII. Many of us read on the run or in-between things or a bit before we go to sleep. Since newspaper columns by their very nature are short pieces that you can digest as a little dessert. It also means that if  is there is a topic that is not your piece of cake or is so outdated that it no longer has meaning or interest (and there were a few in this category) you can just move on  to the next one. However, if you appreciate history in the making and are fascinated by social commentary of the times , don’t skip this book.

Comment » | H - Humor, HI - History, O - Other - Specify, P - Political, Uncategorized

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