NOW Film Festival: Gaslight

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

When NOW (the National Organization for Women) decided to launch a small film festival in Key West, it was looking for significant films “by women, about women and FOR everyone” – it’s motto.

Andrea Henley Heyn, the coordinator for the inaugural Key West NOW Women’s Film Festival, says the local organization was inspired by the Black History Month film series that Lori Reid has coordinated for many years. “It made sense for NOW to do something for Women’s History Month in March.”

This year the Key West NOW Women’s Film Festival starts off with two screenings – “Gaslight” and “Whale Rider.” Next year it’s aiming for four.

“Gaslight” was a no-brainer with the #MeToo Movement and all the recent focus on sexual harassment and abuse.

The movie has given us a new word. Look up “Gaslight” in the dictionary. Following a traditional reference to “a type of lamp in which an incandescent mantle is heated by a jet of burning gas,” you’ll next find that the word “gaslighting” describes a form of psychological abuse in which the victim is gradually manipulated into doubting his or her own sanity.

Most people don’t know where the term “gaslighting” comes from, but it originated from this film.

This fictional work (along with a previous play and another film adaptation) was the first artistic portrayal of this type of psychological abuse.

Next Wednesday you can catch “Gaslight” (the classic 1944 version starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer) at Tropic Cinema. “Whale Rider” will follow on March 18.

“Gaslight” is a psychological thriller that tells the story of a husband trying to drive his wife insane in order to distract her from his criminal activities.

The plot is straightforward, yet complex: Years after her aunt was murdered in her home, a young woman (Bergman) moves back into the house with her new husband (Boyer). However, he has a secret that he will do anything to protect, even if it means driving his wife insane.

While winning an Academy Award as Best Actress for this role, Ingrid Bergman (“Casablanca,” “Spellbound”) is convincingly fragile as the wife. Charles Boyer (“Algiers,” “Back Street”) is insidiously duplicitous. Joseph Cotton (“The Third Man,” “Citizen Kane”) is the white knight. And 17-year-old Angela Lansbury (“The Manchurian Candidate,” TV’s “Murder, She Wrote”) in her very first film role got nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in this George Cukor-directed masterpiece.

Looking at it from a NOW viewpoint, one might wish the wife had solved her problem without an outside male savior, but nevertheless it highlights the predatory nature of a man manipulating his wife to the point of her questioning her own sanity.

Gregory (Boyer): “I’ve tried so hard to keep it within these walls – in my own house. Now, because you would go out tonight, the whole of London knows it. If I could only get inside that brain of yours and understand what makes you do these crazy, twisted things.”

Paula (Bergman): “Gregory, are you trying to tell me I’m insane?”

Well …

Doesn’t matter if you’ve seen “Gaslight” before, it’s worth watching again and again. For the acting. For its cinematic qualities. For its edge-of-the-seat thrills. For its message about controlling and manipulative relationships between men and women.

“Gaslight” has become an archetype for psychological abuse.

As one moviegoer observed, “Psychological suspense was never more focused, and less distracted, than you’ll find in ‘Gaslight’ … You might find the plot too linear, too predictable overall, to be blown away, but in fact that’s partly why the suspense works. As with great Hitchcock, you have a sense of where you’re going, and you want to stop it.”

The movie has become iconic. A review of the new Elisabeth Moss film “The Invisible Man” described it as a “gaslight thriller.”

Yes, this 75-year-old film is still relevant. Last year, the Library of Congress selected “Gaslight” for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

And after seeing this first entry in the nascent NOW Film Festival, make your calendar for “Whale Rider.”

“This year’s two films came from a list of 20, which was then whittled down to six,” Andrea Henley Heyn tells us. “‘Whale Rider’ was chosen by the NOW members at a meeting in the fall. We wanted to choose movies made by women and Niki Caro both wrote the screenplay and directed this inspiring movie. It’s about a young Maori girl challenging the status quo and breaking cultural, physical and spiritual barriers to women’s leadership. It’s also a beautiful movie and has just enough mythological components to add to the mystery of change.”

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