by Barb, who is spending October in Virginia in a house on a lake
Do we all vividly remember the last social things we did before we went underground like the mole people? I keep replaying that last week in my mind. On Sunday, we went to a birthday party. It was outdoors, but we didn’t know then what we know now and were already weighing whether we should go. On Tuesday, we out to dinner with friends and then to the theater to see a fabulous production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. On Wednesday, the very last thing we did, before we stopped doing public events altogether, was attend a screening of the movie Gaslight.
I’d had the showing of this classic movie at the Tropic Cinema in Key West on my calendar for a while. I was especially interested because at the time I was writing Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, a mystery involving digital gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a term that’s used a lot right now. It comes from the 1938 play Gas Light, and subsequent 1940 and 1944 movies. The plot in each varies slightly but the theme is the same: a husband socially isolates his wife and works to convince her that what she is seeing, hearing and experiencing isn’t real, causing her to question her sanity. The story is set in 1880s London and a key feature is the dimming of the gaslights in the couple’s home.
The 1944 movie, directed by George Cukor, is marvelous. Boyer and an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury, making her screen debut, were nominated for Academy Awards, and Ingrid Bergman won for Best Actress. I especially loved Joseph Cotten, who plays an Inspector from Scotland Yard with a full-on American accent–no explanation ever given.
The Art Directors also won an Oscar, as well they should have. Because the creepiest thing about the movie is that the wife’s own home is literally used against her. The physical place where we are supposed to feel the safest is used as a weapon of psychological warfare.
Gaslights were the technology of 1880. In 2020, someone can use an app to access to a home security system from the other side of town to dim the lights. Or raise the heat, open and close the garage door, even change the code to get inside. Imagine coming home everyday and being unable to enter your house. Then imagine someone you love telling you, “You’ve forgotten again. Your mind is going.” Creepy, right?
So you can see why that trip to the movies has stayed with me. There’s the film itself, the subject matter, and the fact that it was my last time in a movie theater for seven months and counting. Who knows when I’ll go back again.
Readers: Do you remember the last social things you managed before you began staying at home? Or if you’re an essential worker, before your life was confined to work and home? Tell us about it below to be entered to win one of two Advanced Reader Copies of Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door.