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'Shallow Hal' 

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Head Games

Hollywood hypnotist analyzes 'Shallow Hal'

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation.

Controversy buzzes around Shallow Hal, a new movie by the oft-controversial Farrelly Brothers in which a not nice guy (Jack Black) is hypnotized into thinking that a 300-pound social worker looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. When the hypnosis wears off, the chastened fellow is forced to learn a lesson about inner beauty vs. outward appearance.

The movie is a hit, though a divisive one. Across America, people of large size have been strongly objecting to the movie's sometimes demeaning slapstick humor--as when the fat girl jumps into a pool and displaces all the water, propelling some swim-suited kid into a tree.

But another oft-maligned segment of our society is also having a strong reaction to the film: professional hypnotists.

"I've been getting a lot of calls," says hypnotist Kevin Stone. "Just today some guy calls up and says, 'Yeah, I'm looking for a hypnotist to come to our office party and make all the guys think all the girls are good looking, just like in that movie Shallow Hal.'

"I think hypnosis may be getting a big boost from this movie--which is a plus, because most movies make hypnotists look really bad."

An affable, somewhat mysterious-looking gentleman, Stone is known far and wide as the Hollywood Hypnotist, a somewhat ironic moniker since it is Hollywood, in part, that has given hypnotists the decidedly malevolent image that Stone is eager to reverse.

One of America's most successful practitioners of hypnosis, Stone holds down a thriving therapy practice in Hollywood. Something of a historian, Stone has amassed a vast collection of movies dealing with hypnosis and hypnotists, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari up to more recent efforts such as Stir of Echoes (Kevin Bacon is hypnotized into seeing ghosts) and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (David Ogden Stiers turns Woody Allen into a cat burglar). Most of these cast hypnosis in a negative light.

Along comes Shallow Hal, a high profile film that Stone first approached with modest amounts of professional fear and trembling. But he was surprised by what he saw.

"It's an interesting premise," Stone says. "And for once--unlike in Curse of the Jade Scorpion--they utilized hypnosis in what I feel is a very positive way."

So he likes it?

"I liked it, sure," Stone admits. "It's ridiculous, but it shows that hypnosis can be used to do more than, you know, make people cluck like chickens and rob banks. Which is how movies usually show hypnosis.

"If you really want to see hypnosis performed in a true, positive way," he continues, "take a look at K-Pax. They're doing a regression there that is absolutely accurate."

In K-Pax, Kevin Spacey, as a mental patient claiming to be from another planet, undergoes a spooky, hypnotic regression performed by his doctor, played by Jeff Bridges. Says Stone, "The way Jeff Bridges does the hypnosis, using his voice, and the verbiage he uses, is right on! I thought it was very clean."

According to Stone, these recent films point to a slight shift in Hollywood's representation of hypnosis, which may in turn alter the public's perception about what hypnosis is really capable of.

"The stuff in Shallow Hal is possible, sure, to a degree," allows Stone. "The stuff in Jade Scorpion, not possible. K-Pax, definitely. That's true hypnosis."

So while Stone can expect more requests to make people think they're seeing Gwyneth Paltrow--"I'm already getting those kinds of requests, absolutely," he says--his hope is that fewer people will be nervous that he'll covertly turn them into a criminal--or worse, a duck.

"Honestly," Stone laughs, "if I had those kinds of powers, do you think I'd still be working for living?"

From the November 29-December 5, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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