Gaslight the Movie and a #giveaway

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.

82 Thoughts

  1. We older people were already being advised to be cautious in February! Alas, the only things I can remember from March were Doctor and Dentist appointments! The most social I get is a few words with the meals-on-wheels lady.

    1. I have gone back to the doctors and am going to the dentist in November so unless something really bad happens that part of my normal activities have been resumed.

  2. Isn’t it strange to remember those days, Barb? We watched the 1944 Gaslight at home about a year ago I think, because I’ve never seen it. So very scary.

    The last thing I did was fly home from Puerto Rico with one son after visiting the other son for a glorious week. We flew back on March 9th, and it was already getting scary. Two days later I was due to be at a local high school career fair. We weren’t very masks but nobody was shaking hands and there was a lot of hand sanitizer around. I said hello to our smarmy state representative, and he was going for the handshake. I was shocked, and said no handshakes! Now I wouldn’t go near a high school cafeteria full of people. Gives me the creeps.

  3. We’re pretty much stay-at-homes, with few guests over the last decade anyway, due to family circumstances and the fact that the people with whom we loved to have in (or go out with) are no longer here, and the work-social functions went when the job that brought us here disappeared. The little social atmosphere here is not com[patable
    with us.
    As far as “Gaslighting” goes, I often use the term. Funny, but we have recently started watching many old shows and a “Car 54 Where Are You” episode we saw last week involved references to the movie. I remembered much about the episode, but my husband had not. (BTW, they are better than I appreciated as a child). My husband’s family were not big movie watchers, but my mother was. I introduced him to “Gaslight”,(along with many others), over the years.

  4. I’m pretty sure the last “regular” social thing I did before everything went haywire was a trivia night where I’m part of a team. There was a concert by the band UFO as well but that was in early March and I know there was a trivia night after that.

    The last book related event before a brief thing this past weekend which was totally awesome was a Bruce Robert Coffin signing event at New England Mobile Book Fair at the end of February or very beginning of March. There were a bevy of other authors at that event so I got to meet them all as well.

  5. Pre-pandemic seems so long ago! On our last Friday date night in February we went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Fort Myers and strolled the streets crowded with outdoor tables and tourists poking our heads into little shops along the way. We commented on how nice it would be to come back when the crowds had abated more at the end of snowbird season so we could enjoy a show at the playhouse or a Friday happy hour at the Firestone rooftop bar. Little did we know.

    Gaslight is one of my favorite movies – the 1944 version haven’t seen any of the others. I admit I had to watch it to understand the term when it became popular. I read (and loved) Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door. I was guessing to the end and the possibilities for mayhem raised sent chills down my spine.

    1. When Hollywood agreed to make the 1944 movie they demanded all copies of the 1940 British movie be destroyed, including the negative. They were, almost. Apparently there are a couple of copies left. I have never seen it. I’m so glad you liked the book!

  6. Since it was still very cool to be outside and the festival/music season hadn’t quite started in our town (Capital of Folk Music), we hadn’t really gone or did anything eventful yet for the year. We had planned for over a year for two trips we were going to take in 2020. The first one just about time to start going to Utah to see all of the national parks and wonders to see in a state we have never been to. We were excited and made often trips to Little Rock for photography supplies and to get out of the house for a day outing. We enjoyed being able to sit leisurely in a restaurant while making plans for the trips and eating a nice meal – on real plates, with condiments on the table. I really miss being able to do that. Now it’s eat at home (which I love, but it’s wonderful to get a vacation from cooking on occasion) or go to a drive through eat in the car or go home and eat which means you still have the clean up to do. It also meant being able to breathe properly because no masks were needed. Although we definitely wear a mask when we venture out to restock the pantry, sure wish someone could devise one that did the job but allowed one to breathe normally and not break out in a sweat after 10 minutes.

    As they say, you don’t realize what you have or miss it until you lose it. We lost our freedom for a while – to come and go as we please and to socialize with friends and loved ones including hugs and close contact instead of video conversations. Us personally, we lost out on the trip to Utah and also the one we had planned in the fall through Amish communities in several states. We hope what we have lost can once again become part of our “normal” life. He hope we can return to normal and that this is not our new normal. We pray for a cure for this horrible disease.

    Thank you for the fabulous opportunity to win an ARC of “Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door”! Shared and hoping to be one of the very fortunate ones selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I would love to do that Utah trip. I have never done the western national parks. We lost a trip to Dublin, Edinburgh and a sail over the top of Scotland. It’s the second time we had planned the trip and the second time we cancelled, so we’re thinking maybe we’re causing this and should stop planning it.

  7. I think the last “social” think I did was a meet-and-greet with Koda. But I’ve worked from home for the last several years, so nothing has changed for me on that front (other than I got a second monitor and another chair).

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the Gaslight movies, although I’m very familiar with the term.

  8. My husband and I managed to go on a cruise in Feb. I had always wanted to see Barbados and they only went there twice. We had to have our passports checked by a supervisor to make sure we hadn’t been to China when we checked in which added about a half hour to the process. We had a wonderful cruise and visited some beautiful islands that we haven’t been to before. I am getting the itch to travel again but now that the cases are picking up again it will be another while before I can think about it. Thank you so much for this chance. Barbara Ross I love your books. pgenest57(at)aol(dot)com

  9. We ate dinner out at our favorite Chinese restaurant the night before the state shut down indoor dining. Unfortunately we haven’t been back there since it’s a bit too far for takeout

  10. We had a birthday party for one of our best friends. I got ambitious and made a cake that looked like a cat. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I was so proud of it and she loved it.

  11. I don’t remember what I was doing right before things shut down, but I do remember wishing I had gone grocery shopping about a week later. I had been too lazy to go before, not knowing how difficult it would be to find stuff in a few days.

    1. I just rewatched Stranger Than Fiction on Netflix. I love that movie. Professor Jules Hibert says he has written papers and taught courses on “Had he but known…”

  12. We had our Grands for an overnight visit and fun times! Sadly, we have not seen them since then, many months ago.

  13. It’s a great movie and great book, Barb! The last social thing I did was attend a meeting of the Chessie Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Lots of people wouldn’t hug so we’d bump elbows. Then we all sat at luncheon tables crammed shoulder to shoulder, passing bread from a basket, butter, etc. I’ve thought of that moment many times.

  14. I am homebound so have no stories about my last trip out. It was to doctors for a wellness check.

  15. I am mostly home bound with illnesses so life didn’t change much for me. Not able to be very social.

  16. The last thing I did was eat in a restaurant and go to work. I work for the local municipal court. The City never shut down but let each employee decide what was best for them. I was of work for about a month, then went back because there were a lot of precautions in place. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of the new oil.

  17. The last thing I did was moderate a panel on culinary cozies at Left Coast Crime. Walking out from the signing area afterwards was when the word came down that the rest of the festival had been cancelled. Honestly, the entire day had felt weird (the book seller decided not to sell books the morning of because of concerns about COVID), so it was a very surreal day. And that morning, I’d learned that my job had cancelled two months worth of cruises, so I was thinking about work while there. I packed up and drove home so I could save money on my hotel bill and so I could work the next day, something I hadn’t planned to do.

    I’ve seen the movie version of Gaslight, but I must admit I wasn’t as impressed with it as most other people seem to be. The reason is I’d seen the stage play a few months before. My local community college had put it on while I was a student there. And they had set up small bleacher like seats on the stage. It was a semi-circle instead of a fully theater in the round experience, but we were right there. It was so gripping, and the actors were phenomenal. Nothing against the actors in the movie or the movie itself. But that experience was so formative it has probably ruined any other production of the story for me ever.

    1. Mark–that is so interesting. Was it the original 1938 stage play, or a play derived from the movie? I agree there is nothing like a live performance.

  18. This is such a creepy premise, Barb and one I am really looking forward to reading when your book releases! Sadly, I cannot even remember the last social thing I did. I do remember visiting my mother in Florida in early February but that feels like a lifetime ago!

    1. I bet it feels like a lifetime. I find I am now a terrible judge of how long ago something happened. I’ve described things that happened at the beginning of the pandemic as taking place “year ago.”

  19. Barb, I love Gaslight — great movie! This week, as it happens, we watched Sleep, My Love for the first time. It has same premise as Gaslight, starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche. Not quite as good as Gaslight, but worth watching — and I’m a big Claudette Colbert fan!

    1. Excellent movie. Ameche becomes incredibly creepy just by being very calm and mellow no matter what happens. After a while it starts to feel very wrong.

  20. We participated in a week-end car track event in Deming, NM before our lives changed so dramatically. We not done much since except walking alot, grocery shopping, doctors’ appointments , and driving around to break up the monotony. Also have a room of items to purge- we are waiting on the local base to re-open it’s lending attic so we can donate them to needy service men & women.

  21. Things haven’t been much different here. I work at a nursing home so I’ve still had to go in. And though the residents can’t go out they’ve still been able to have visits through the window and outside in special booths.
    As far as at home, I didn’t do much before. And my town seems to have been missed by the virus entirely. The surrounding towns haven’t been too bad either. Masks are not mandatory for my state. We’re pretty much going about business as usual. The neighbors got together last month for a send off party for another neighbor family that’s moving. We’ll be starting bowling soon. We go for groceries, went to a baby shower (a drive through one just in case), chat with the neighbors while waiting for a pound of hamburger, go out to eat now and then.

    1. That sounds almost…normal (except for the drive through baby shower). My state has done really well but every time we think we’re out of the woods (like when tourist season ended) there’s another flare-up.

  22. Don’t remember what the last social I did before the shutdown, but I do know I had dentist and hair appointments just before. The last thing I did that wasn’t possible for a long time was buy underwear at a Victoria’s Secret store. Glad I bought a bunch. We have had to cancel five planned vacations. Granted most were weekend trips, but one was to drive cross country to see our daughter. Don’t know when we will be able to see her again and it is killing us.

    Just finished Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody. Loved it. Looking forward to the next book.

  23. We were vacationing in Florida, visiting family and friends, bouncing from house to house, we things started shutting down. When Disney shut their doors we decided to cut our trip short, changed our flights, and hightailed it back to New Hampshire. As a retiree hanging at home hasn’t been too much of a burden. What I miss is going to book conventions like Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, and New England Crime Bake. Love your books.

  24. The last social event I attended BC was a family get together for the Jewish holiday of Purim. It was a very festive day but there was this feeling of foreboding, like there was something looming but we just didn’t know what. It was such an unsettling feeling.

  25. Due to health reasons I was already staying at home when everything shut down.

  26. The last places I went before this shut down was to the grocery store and Walmart, and I also went to the gym. Ever since this craziness I have not gone to none of these places. My husband has been doing the shopping. I do go for walks with my husband and our pup every morning. We also went on a hike. Thank you for the chance. Have a Great week and stay safe.

  27. A week before lockdown here in Oregon, we got together with friends for a catchup visit. It was noteworthy because these friends split their time between the West Coast and the East Coast and we had literally been trying to get together for a visit for a year or more. We also got to see their six month baby girl. aut1063(at)gmail(dot)com

  28. Honestly, I wasn’t very social before Covid. I do miss being able to go to a store and speak with cashiers or other staff without it being muffled through a mask.

  29. I remember going to Sam’s Club and I was surprised how busy the store was. People were buying toilet paper like crazy and I only bought a few things and thought about leaving because of the long lines, but I managed to find a shorter line and I was happy to get out of there. We were locked down a few days later. Luckily, I’m a homebody and it hasn’t bothered me too much. As long as I have a book to read, I’m good.

  30. It seems easier to remember what we didn’t get to do. It was our daughter’s 17th birthday and she really wanted to go to Maggiano’s in th south end of Denver. They started shutting down the restaurants for eating -in the week or so prior, but we could go down there and get it to eat at home….nope…not the same.
    For work, we were blessed that we were able to work from home 95% of the time. Young’n did classwork in her room, my husband was in the basement and I sat in the family room. I liked not having a 90 minute roundtrip commute and getting to watch TV while I worked. I missed audiobook time in my car though.

  31. Luckily for me, before social distancing, I had gone to Kohl’s and the hairdresser!

  32. I made it to Mysticon in Roanoke Va as a writer guest. I was figuring on attending at least one more con this year in some capacity, but no.

  33. I was at Left Coast Crime when the San Diego Health Department shut down the convention in late afternoon of the first day. That was right after the panel Mark Baker moderated, in which one author, as she sat down next to me, informed us that her daughter had tested positive for COVID-19. The convention provided hand sanitizers and gloves, but masks were not yet the priority they became.

  34. Gaslight is such a great movie. Right before sheltering in place, I was at the Left Coast Crime convention. I had one wonderful dinner with writer friends before I holed up at home.

  35. One of the last things I remember doing- my husband & I were participating in a weight loss competition and the day the actual “stay at home” orders were announced was the day of our last weigh in. We had weighed in that morning prior to that ge announcement. There was supposed to be a large gathering with prizes & photos, but none of that happened as they’d already started with social distancing, sanitizing, etc.

  36. I went to a meet and greet for a candidate that was running for office at the county level (primary season) Last time I shook someone’s hand.

  37. Very interesting read. I was just wondering the other day where gaslighting came from. That is one of the few classics I have never seen. Psychological horror gets to me in a very bad way, so I just don’t. Your comments about the “smart” home hacking is why I have no “smart” devices and will not. It’s strange, I was a huge Science Fiction fan when I was younger, the thought then of all the wonderful advancements was thrilling. Not so much now… Perhaps we haven’t advanced far enough I think. Thanks for the interesting add to my day.

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