Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pay No Attention to Those Flickering Lights

gas·light [gas-lahyt]

1. light produced by the combustion of illuminating gas.
2. a gas burner or gas jet for producing this kind of light.

3.gaslit ( def 2 ) .

verb (used with object), gas·light·ed or gas·lit, gas·light·ing.
4. to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation: How do you know if your partner is gaslighting you?

Origin: 1800–10; gas + light1 ; def 4 in reference to the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which an abusive husband secretly and repeatedly dims and brightens the gaslights in the house while accusing his wife of imagining the flickering

Random House Dictionary

Ingrid Bergman won her first Oscar for George Cukor's "Gaslight," which premiered 70 years ago today. That movie also earned the rare distinction of serving as the illustration for a term in the dictionary — in this case, a verb.

I don't know if gaslight is used frequently anymore, but, surely, everyone can understand the concept. Bergman's character was driven to the very brink of madness through the psychological manipulation of her husband (Charles Boyer).

"I think [Bergman]'s my favorite movie actress," wrote Roger Ebert, and I think many people would agree. Bergman was still young in 1944, but she already had a reputation and a following. She was pretty well known by the time she won her Oscar for "Gaslight."

See, Bergman played a turn–of–the–century young singer who fell for a dashing older man (Boyer). They got married and set up their home in a house Bergman's character had inherited from her aunt, also a singer who had been murdered there a decade earlier.

The man who had murdered her aunt had been searching for her jewels, but he was interrupted by Bergman as a child and fled. He was never identified.

"If it was I who took that picture down ... if it was I who took it down the other times, if I do all these senseless, meaningless things, so meaningless, why should I take a picture down? But then, I don't know what I do anymore. ... But then, if that's true, then you must be gentle with me. You must bear with me, please."

Paula (Ingrid Bergman)

It was all part of Boyer's character's plan. You see, he was the one who had killed Bergman's aunt, and he tried to manipulate her psychologically. When he moved around in the attic, looking for the jewels he left behind all those years ago, his footsteps could be heard, and the gaslights in the house flickered when he switched on the lights in the attic because that reduced the gas supply to the rest of the house.

He systematically attempted to drive her insane. If she were certified insane and put in an institution, he would be free to search for the jewels whenever he pleased.

As her paranoia increased, Bergman's character became convinced that her maid (Angela Lansbury, a real spitfire in her first movie role) detested her.

It was Joseph Cotten, as an inspector from Scotland Yard, who provided the alliance Bergman needed to convince herself that all the odd things really were happening, that they weren't her imagination — and, most importantly, that she was not responsible for them. There was a reasonable explanation for what had been happening.

The movie got seven Oscar nominations, but only the mesmerizing Bergman and four others (for Art Direction) took home the statuette. Boyer and Lansbury were nominated for their acting, the movie was nominated for Best Picture, and John Balderston, Walter Reisch and John Van Druten were nominated for their adapted screenplay, but Cukor was not nominated for his direction.

There were some heavyweights in that category that year, though (Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, Henry King and the winner, Leo McCarey), and it is hard to imagine how Cukor could have been wedged in.