It has been three quarters of a century since Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), filled its first audiences with eerie vibes that have not diminished with passing generations. Having stood the test of time due to intriguing plot, superior acting, and solid movie making, the film Gaslight continues to have a lasting impact on viewers, especially those who can apply its meaning to current events. Patrick Hamilton, a little known British playwright, wrote the original play, “Gas Light (known in the United States as Angel Street),” in 1938 (“Gas Light”, 2017), and unknowingly coined a term that has survived to become, most recently, part of American political jargon.
George Cukor carefully avoids the obvious effects in telling this story of a husband (Charles Boyer) attempting to drive his wife (Ingrid Bergman) insane; instead, this 1944 film is one of the few psychological thrillers that is genuinely psychological, depending on subtle clues —a gesture, an intonation—to thought and character. Boyer and Bergman are superb, and Angela Lansbury makes her debut as a cunning cockney maid. It’s also one of the few films to expand the use of offscreen space, not simply to the sides of the frame, but to the areas above and below the image as well. With Joseph Cotten and Dame May Whitty.
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
In this month’s movie Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), Charles Boyer’s character, Gregory Anton, sets out to enact a well-planned strategy of deceit, to gain the possessions of a famous opera singer. He almost succeeds because his wife, Paula, is such an easy victim of his treachery. Her vulnerability comes from being a female ingénue, having grown up in the opera singer’s (i.e., her aunt’s) London household.
With recent attention on the film Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), let’s not overlook its director, George Cukor (1899-1983). There is much to be learned from this interesting man who got his professional start in New York. Starting in the mid 1920’s when silent movies evolved to talkies, Cukor was called to Hollywood as a voice coach thus giving him opportunities to work his way up to the coveted role of director. A prolific career of over 60 films and an Academy Award for Best Director in 1965 for My Fair Lady (Cukor, 1964), on top of numerous other nominations, ensured that George Cukor made a strong mark on Hollywood. Continue reading George Cukor, Director of Influence
He was the Rupert Murdoch of his day: a media baron who made millions marketing scandal, crime and crisis. He was so rich, he built a castle as a monument to his vanity. So iconic that his life story inspired the movie classic ‘Citizen Kane.’ When William Randolph Hearst died in 1951, he left future generations of Hearsts set for life—safely cushioned in the bubble of their birthright. But on the evening of Feb. 4, 1974, that bubble burst.
—Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC
The documentary film, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004), is a synopsis of a high-profile criminal case, which in the 1970s had most of America enraptured. The movie is worth your while for at least the following four reasons:
First is the movie’s accurate portrayal of UC Berkeley and other similar college campuses in America in the late 1960s-70s. Forty years have passed since the Patty Hearst case, yet it is strikingly similar to what is going on today. A few weeks ago, UC Berkeley was mired with violent protests against Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News, a conservative media outlet (Gecker, 2017; Ross, 2017). Not only disallowing free speech on the campus, but the UC Berkeley protesters also removed metal barriers, smashed windows in buildings both on-campus and off, and defied police, who, fortunately, were able to protect the speaker from the violence.
But officials said it was a smaller group of protesters dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts that showed up as night fell to break windows with metal barricades, throw smoke bombs and flares and start a large bonfire outside the building with a diesel generator.
‘This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers,’ said UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet (Gecker, 2017 Feb 2).
Mind control is an interesting concept. This terminology most often conjures up notions of intrigue, sci-fi, destructive cults, MK Ultra, and maybe thoughts of Jason Bourne. In describing Patty Hearst at her trial, her defense team highlighted Hearst’s terror and the abuses of her captivity, suggesting that she may have been drugged into a “disordered and frightened” state. The idea that many believe about her circumstance is that she was brainwashed, “also known as coercive persuasion or manipulative thought reform” (Morabito, 2014, Apr 15), and developed what is known as “Stockholm syndrome,” a mind condition where she unconsciously abandoned her own prior belief systems and took on the mindset of her captors (Jameson, 2010).
What does it mean to be brainwashed? Continue reading Propaganda, Mind Control, and Engineering Public Opinion
MoviesonChatham continues our discourse on the Spring 2017 theme of persuasion with the documentary, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (Stone, 2004). The 1974 kidnapping of “newspaper heiress” Patty Hearst was sensational.
In California, the SLA shoot‐out seemed an event almost as gripping as a Presidential assassination. People stopped strangers on the street to ask if Patty was all right, and called friends to tell them to turn on the television. At the Student Union in Berkeley, groups gathered around monitors, staring at the incongruity of palm trees and flame. It seemed horribly ironic that such a holocaust would occur in Los Angeles. As long as the SLA had stayed in the Bay area, they managed to foil all pursuers. It was as if they were protected by a ring of sympathetic communities unwilling to help the FBI. (Davidson, 1974).
High-profile crimes such as this one always bring a maelström of reporters, investigators, and media pundits, as well as a nation of armchair detectives. Continue reading The Patty Hearst Case: Persuasion, Persecution, or Predisposition?
the inside world really holds you, really contains you, can cause you pain that you don’t show outside and that is why no one ever talks about it. He has two selves and she only has one.
—John Cassavetes quoted in Carney, 2001
His [Cassavetes’] opinion was that society made women quite crazy—and not just the men. It was their mothers making them crazy half of the time. He said men got all the blame but their mothers told them which way to act and to pretend things that they didn’t feel and say things they didn’t mean, to inflate a man’s ego . . . —Gena Rowlands quoted in Campbell, 2001
Seems to me that much of our concern about Mabel Longhetti (played by Gena Rowlands), the woman who is the focus of this month’s movie, relates to the notion that she doesn’t behave normally. Continue reading The Longhetti Family: What’s Normal?
It would be interesting to know if John Cassavetes read Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. His film, A Woman under the Influence (1975), would be right up her alley. For those not familiar with the famous American writer, she wrote quirky short stories about simple country folk. Perhaps the most famous is “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (O’Connor, 1983), a short story that is the subject of numerous essays and articles that are longer than the story itself (e.g., Curtin, 2015; Fassler, 2013). A hallmark of Flannery O’Connor’s stories is redemption. Readers initially perceive certain characters to be crazy or bad until an unexpected moment of divine intervention Continue reading A Woman under the Influence: A Flannery O’Connor Redemption Story?
What can I possibly write about A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes, 1974) that has not already been written? Starring Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, this film impressed hard-to-please critics, and earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress as well as two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Director. Among the first 50 films to be selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry (US Library of Congress, 2016) for its cultural significance, A Woman Under the Influence is forever a masterpiece Continue reading A Woman under the Influence Started a National Epidemic
Relief. That’s what I felt when The Piano Teacher was mercifully over. The movie not only leaves nothing to my imagination, but renders it obsolete as I endured from one twisted scene to the next, wondering what could possibly come next. When the main character, Erika Kohut, remarked, “Be quiet. You will wake the whole building,” I noted that as one of the few drops of rational thought in the whole movie. Continue reading Some Don’t Like It Hot: The Piano Teacher