NEW YORK -- Patricia Hearst is posing for pictures. "If you could just look this way," the newspaper photographer suggests, positioning her on a chintz-covered chair upstairs at 21. "Good. Right into the lens."

Behind them circles a local television crew, shooting footage of the photographer shooting Hearst; "Eyewitness News" is planning a Patty Hearst interview, too. Not every media organization in the country is doing a Patty Hearst story -- she turned down "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," among others -- but it sometimes seems that way.

In the latest strange twist in an already bizarre life, Patty Hearst has been tirelessly and effectively promoting "Patty Hearst," a movie that opened Friday and re-creates her 1974 kidnaping and subsequent arrest and trial. The film's somewhat puzzled but very grateful producer estimates that Hearst's flacking may well reap a million dollars' worth of press coverage. Her 1982 autobiography, on which the film is based, has just been reissued in paperback and is also benefiting from the PR offensive: Avon's just ordered a second printing.

There are those to whom Hearst's pretty face will always evoke ghostly counterimages: Hearst as Tania in beret and carbine; Hearst during the Hibernia Bank robbery for which she was convicted; Hearst emerging from prison wearing a T-shirt that said PARDON ME and waving her presidential commutation.

But almost 15 years have passed since everyone with a TV set knew that the letters SLA stood for Symbionese Liberation Army. When Hearst, the photographer and the camera crew all move outside the restaurant to continue the session, passers-by on 52nd Street know only that the poised blond in the cream silk pantsuit is a celebrity, one of the dozens getting the media workover in New York on a given day. A few people cluster around to watch.

"Who is that?" wonders a businessman, arriving for a power lunch.

His companion shrugs. "Somebody famous."

She has taken the train in from Westport, Conn., where she and her husband Bernard Shaw, an ex-cop and her former bodyguard, are raising two daughters. If Patricia Hearst Shaw is not precisely Suburban Everymom -- she flies to San Francisco for the Opera Ball and sees Mary McFadden's and Calvin Klein's new collections and shares charity chores with pals Kimberly Rockefeller and Yasmin Aga Khan -- her life is normally not so different from other affluent Westport women's.

More remarkably, she says that "it's not altogether different from what would have happened" if she hadn't been abducted at gunpoint and wound up on the cover of Newsweek seven times. "Normal for me would be chairing a benefit at the U.N. or a benefit at the Waldorf. My standard of what's normal, other people are reading about in the newspapers and saying 'ooh.' "

This is no more than the truth. As the granddaughter of the press baron who inspired "Citizen Kane," Hearst was referred to for weeks as a "kidnaped heiress," a description that later acquired variations like heiress-turned-revolutionary and fugitive-heiress and heiress-felon. At 34, this press marathon aside, everything but the "heiress" part seems to have evaporated. She votes Republican.

"It's very mystifying," says Paul Schrader, who directed the film and has met with Hearst several times. "You know the scars have to be there, but you can't see them. She speaks about these events almost as if they happened to someone else."

Why, then, having apparently put five years of captivity and infamy behind her, does Hearst seem so willing to air it all again? Perhaps this lunch at 21 -- after Vogue and New York magazine's interviews but before Larry King and "Entertainment Tonight" -- will shed some light.

Although, Hearst says early on, "I'm totally burnt out on print interviews. There's too much editorializing, talking about how you picked at your clams or whatever." (Today, she's picking at buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes.) "I just prefer live television. There's no editing."

"Patty Hearst," an inexpensive but stylishly shot film with rising British star Natasha Richardson as the 19-year-old Patty, is "artistic" and "reasonably accurate," says its relieved subject. "Even though they had a low budget, it doesn't look cheap." And it remains largely faithful to Hearst's own version of her ordeal.

That saga, for the benefit of the young and the forgetful, began when she was kidnaped from her Berkeley apartment by the tiny, violent SLA. As the film graphically depicts, Hearst was kept in a closet for 57 days, raped, repeatedly threatened with death. Two months later, one of her taped "communique's" to the outside world announced that she would "join the forces of the SLA" and when a surveillance camera showed her carrying an M1 during the bank robbery, it appeared that she had. Most of her SLA captors died in a fiery police shootout in Los Angeles, but Hearst and two others evaded the FBI for more than a year. Convicted of armed robbery in 1976, she was sentenced to seven years. But friends waged an intense campaign for her release, Hearst gave lots of sympathy-inducing interviews, and in 1979 President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. She'd spent almost two years in jail.

The movie doesn't directly tackle the lingering question of whether Hearst genuinely converted or was brainwashed into outlaw behavior. Director Schrader calls that question "a fascinating social puzzle" to which "there is no answer now; there was no answer then."

Hearst has had a ready answer for years, however: Her book, first published as "Every Secret Thing" and now being released as "Patty Hearst: Her Own Story," says the SLA practiced "the classic Maoist formula for thought reform."

"In my case," Hearst recites calmly over her lunch, "being blindfolded, kept in a closet, radio blaring, food insufficient, you do this to a person, keep her in dread, fearing for her life all the time, dependent on the captors for everything including information about what's happening in the outside world, you can reduce your prisoner to a totally pliant nonindividual who will do anything you say."

It was to emphasize her victimization -- there were and may always be some who thought the radical heiress had been on some sick joyride -- that Hearst sat down with writer Alvin Moscow to tell her story. Money may also have been a factor: Her advance (which she will not discuss) was $700,000, give or take, and she and Shaw were living relatively modestly in California at the time. But fundamentally, says her editor at Doubleday, "she wrote the book to set the record straight."

Hearst was disappointed to sell a respectable but unexceptional 60,000 copies in hardcover, and the paperback edition "I saw for all of two minutes"; she thought it "a shame" when the book went out of print. But, "I had kept the film rights, primarily because I was afraid it would ... be turned into the trashiest movie ever seen in Hollywood."

She still maintains that "my choice would've been to not have it made, ever." But when producer Marvin Worth wanted to buy the rights several years later (he says he paid a "very low six figures"), Hearst says she agreed because someone else would have made a movie anyway, without her consent. She'd seen some of Worth's movies -- he made "Lenny" and "The Rose" -- and thought, "I have as good a chance with him as with anyone else of having something respectable."

The way Hearst talks about her motivation in these various marketing decisions assumes an odd pattern: She is always reluctant, but someone or something else prevails and the spotlight clicks on again.

Why, once she'd seen and liked the film, did she go to the Cannes Film Festival to help promote it? Because, she says, Worth and the releasing company wanted her to. "I knew if I didn't go there'd be all these questions and expectations about why I didn't, so we decided to go."

Why, after the Cannes appearance generated the intended frenzy, is she pushing the movie now? "The book is coming out, too, and they're sort of promoting each other and it's hard to do one and not the other ... It puts you in an awkward position."

It emerges later that for years the Shaws had displayed in their Connecticut home some of the many magazine covers that Patty had graced. Why would she want those reminders around? A friend had framed them for her, Hearst explains. Now they're in the attic.

Patty Hearst is not a pushover. Coauthor Moscow remembers her as "very strong. She'd say, 'I'll do this but I won't do that' and she'd stick with it and people would back off. She'd stand up to any editor." More recent evidence of her ability to be persuasive as well as persuaded is the unusual fact that "Patty Hearst" had two "premieres" last week: Atlantic Entertainment, which released the movie, agreed to a benefit for the Collective for Living Cinema last Monday, but Hearst wangled a second on Thursday for her pet charity the Creo Society, which helps children with AIDS. Another example: Hearst insisted on canceling a "Today" show appearance, to her publicists' dismay, when the show would not accede to her desire to be interviewed by entertainment reporter Gene Shalit instead of substitute anchor Deborah Norville, whom she regarded as a hard-news sort. But little of that resolve shows up over at 21.

Hearst acknowledges a certain fascination with the press and its image making and remaking (perhaps it's genetic). She thinks it's "hilarious" that some of her fellow charity women have hired publicists to help flack them to social prominence. "Until I moved to New York, I never heard of it. Ladies having publicists for themselves! ... I guess it's just not as important to me." But then, Hearst wouldn't need one.

The blitz continues. A few days later, Patricia Hearst winds up a day in which the "Eyewitness News" crew has followed her through a round of typical activities: stopping by the AIDS unit at Metropolitan Hospital with fellow Creo Society fundraiser Kimberly Rockefeller, visiting designer Mary McFadden's showroom on 35th Street, lunching at Le Cirque. Now the producer has reshuffled the furniture in a room at the Ritz-Carlton, the lights are positioned and the Betacam is rolling. The TV interviewer sits opposite Hearst and asks about the movie; Hearst runs dispassionately through her standard answers.

The interviewer also zeroes in on a much-noticed comment from Hearst's interview in Vogue: that she has retained the musical rights to her story. Would she really permit a Broadway producer to stage "Patty: The Musical"?

"I mean, that's a big question," Hearst says pleasantly. "It depends on who would want to do it, I guess ..."

Why would Patricia Hearst even consider it? Ten years ago, she told a reporter that when she was freed from prison she wanted to "go hide, hibernate for a little while." (Even then, she sold exclusive rights to her wedding and reception, two months after her release, to Look magazine; the photographer who shot the spread remembers the price as $25,000.) Maybe 10 years was hibernation enough.

The people who made "Patty Hearst" have themselves debated why she's been so helpful. "I don't know what her motive is," director Schrader admits. "The answer she gives, I find to be a bit disingenuous ... I think she wanted {the movie} made, for whatever reason."

"I still don't quite get it," agrees Marvin Worth. "I don't think anybody does ... I've asked her this in many different ways; I'm not sure she knows."

Though much of her story is in the public domain, and films (or musicals) can indeed be made without her consent, the fact is that there was little clamor for a Patty Hearst movie. "It's hard to get Hollywood to make those movies," the kind with politics, Worth says. In the years before he contacted her in 1986, there had been only one, a rather obscure made-for-cable project.

Hearst has "points" in "Patty Hearst," meaning that she'll share in any profits, but the industry joke is that there never are profits. Hearst herself doesn't disavow interest in money -- "Can you think of anyone who doesn't care about making a profit in any business dealing? It's such a strange idea I hardly know how to respond" -- but those speculating on the subject discount the profit motive. Hearst turned down a $50,000 offer to be an associate producer of the film, Worth points out.

Something Hearst does care about, however, is what the public thinks of her. She seems to predicate many of her decisions on how best to avoid criticism, something that over the years she has come to expect. That's why she said no to associate-producing the movie: "If it was terrible, I wanted to say I stayed out of it. And if it was good, I didn't want people saying I had my fingers in it," she says. "There was way too much room to look bad."

So her prerelease participation was limited to a photo session on the set, a New York lunch with Natasha Richardson and 10 pages of typed notes Hearst sent to Schrader after reading the screenplay. Her observations ranged from details of accuracy (whether an SLA safe house had furniture or merely pillows) to bits of dialogue (Bill and Emily Harris' conventional marital bickering was changed, at her suggestion, to a rant about his being "crippled by sexism"). Schrader found most of her comments "very objective and to the point." The only serious difference was the powerful (though imagined) jail scene that called for the angered movie Patty to use a strong obscenity in a conversation with her father. "I don't know if you have any idea of what my father would do if I ever said that to him," the real Patty says. But Schrader explained how the movie Patty had to decide to take control of her fate and that lesser obscenities sounded insufficient.

Hearst was not obliged to help publicize the completed movie, even if she liked it. But now that nearly all the other participants (from ex-fiance'e to jail matron) and on-scene observers have had their say about the Patty Hearst case, this movie and book tie-in may become the version that endures. The first time Hearst told her story only 60,000 people wanted to read it in hardcover; this time, Avon has printed 135,000 copies. With memories of the event itself already growing fuzzy and even modest box-office success promising a far bigger audience for Hearst's own account, the potential for a refurbished public image is much greater. Hearst clearly doesn't like the old images much.

"I had a perfectly good reputation until this happened," she'd said at lunch, sounding wistful for the first time about her kidnaping and the consequences. "Not only did I lose five years of my life, but my good name. Maybe that's a corny expression, but it's something that's important to all of us."

But here's another factor some Hearst watchers have kicked around: Hearst seems to be having a good time.

Besides vindication, Natasha Richardson speculates, "I suspect -- she may not know this consciously -- that having had her moment of great fame and attention and having been a housewife {in the intervening years}, she's got a taste for being in the spotlight again and rather enjoys it ... If she doesn't, what the hell is she doing at Cannes, or anywhere else?"

Patty Hearst at Cannes this spring was a strange flashback. "Cannes is not really a film festival, it's a media festival," Schrader says. "And Patty was one of the great media stars of the '70s."

She still is: The ritual press conference at the Grand Palais became, because of her presence, "a crazy madhouse," Richardson says. "Hundreds and hundreds of photographers and TV crews. Security guards knocking photographers out of the way." Richardson, despite being Vanessa Redgrave's daughter, had never been exposed to a media mob in full pursuit; "I was freaked," she admits. But Hearst, an old hand, remained "very cool ... I was dumbstruck at the way she batted difficult questions around."

Richardson hated the whole scene. But Patricia Hearst and Bernie Shaw had a fine time at Cannes, where a premiere, Hearst says, is "more Hollywood than Hollywood. It's at night; they roll up a big red carpet; the press is held back. It was fun."

Richardson had to be half carried through the press conference mob, but Hearst, the old pro, was not intimidated. "I knew how to walk and move and just keep moving," she says with some pride. "You can't pause ... I'd been through it under much less pleasant circumstances."