• Putney film series offers popcorn and psychology
    By Kevin O’Connor
    Staff Writer | December 09,2013
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    Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo

    Dr. Martha Straus, a clinical psychologist, and her cousin Billy Straus, president of the nonprofit Next Stage Arts Project in Putney, are collaborating on this month’s Dysfunctional Family Film Series.
    PUTNEY — Last Thursday, 18.5 million Americans gathered around the glow of a live theatrical telecast of “The Sound of Music.” Then there was the smaller number that huddled in the dark at this town’s Dysfunctional Family Film Series.

    Dr. Martha Straus is a clinical psychologist and professor at Antioch University New England Graduate School. Her cousin Billy Straus is a music producer and president of the nonprofit Next Stage Arts Project in Putney. Together they’re presenting a periodic “ShrinkRap” series, mixing movies with audience discussions about mental health and well-being.

    “My thinking was to have people see films through a psychological lens,” Martha Straus says.

    That’s why, as most people spend December watching commercial-laden specials about the true meaning of Christmas, the 2,702-resident town of Putney is screening films about adultery, addiction and Woody Allen.

    “At the moment, you don’t believe in God — now why do you think you’d like to convert to Catholicism?” a priest told Allen’s character last week during a screening of the 1986 Academy Award-winning comedy “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

    Straus began the series last year with movies showing Hollywood’s take on her profession.

    “Therapists are portrayed in film as offbeat or odd,” she says.

    Take “The Wackness,” with Ben Kingsley as a counselor who smokes marijuana with a teenage patient. Or “Carefree,” with Fred Astaire as a dancing psychiatrist. Or “Analyze This,” with Billy Crystal helping an anxious mobster.

    This December’s series turns the spotlight on the rest of society.

    “My practice is bursting at the seams right now,” Straus says. “Dysfunctional families and the holiday season go together.”

    Last week’s kickoff Woody Allen film depicted characters sitting down for three successive holiday meals as they chewed over issues of attachment and addiction, competence and relationship challenges.

    “People are invited but not required to stay after the film to debrief,” Straus told the audience at the start.

    “ShrinkRap” is just one of several arts initiatives taking place at Next Stage, a 160-seat performing arts space housed in the 172-year-old former Putney Federated Church. The film series will continue Thursday at 7 p.m. with the 2005 divorce drama “The Squid and the Whale” ($5 is the suggested donation).

    For all of the sadness and struggles on screen, Straus believes life holds the possibility of a happy ending. Take the conclusion of last week’s presentation, in which Allen walks into a movie house that’s playing the Marx Brothers’ classic “Duck Soup.”

    “I’m watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film,” Allen says. “And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Jeez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts.’”


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