Gaslight

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This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release: 1944

Rating: NR (It’s G/PG but would be creepy for little kids)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? No—available OnDemand and on BluRay and DVD

Spoilers? No more than that awesome, melodramatic, classic trailer linked up above

 

This movie and its 1940 predecessor (which I have never seen) are the reason we have the phrase “gaslighting.” Gaslighting “is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted/spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception and sanity.” This movie is an ideal to watch if you ever wonder how anyone could “let” themselves be abused or have ever asked “why on earth would a woman STAY with her abuser?”

Ingrid Bergman stars as Paula Alquist who, at 10 years old, discovers her aunt’s murdered body in their home. Paula, who for obvious reasons now loathes the house, (we call this PTSD in the 21st century) is shipped off to Italy to study music. There she meets an older pianist and falls in love. She marries him, sacrificing her promising musical career. Paula has had no mother and no father in her life for almost a decade, and all she wants is to be loved and have a family. Paula equates all of England with her aunt’s traumatic murder, but that is exactly where her new husband Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) wants them to move. Paula expresses her displeasure but wants to please her love and they do move to England. Arriving, Paula is in for the first of many ugly surprises, as Gregory insists they move into her aunt’s home since she owns it through inheritance.

Ensconced in England, in a house with horrible memories, Gregory begins his attack on Paula’s psyche. He moves objects. He talks to her like an invalid. Things go missing. Paintings move. Gas lights in the bedroom dim and brighten. There are strange noises in the house. Gregory leaves and returns at strange hours. He enlists the aid of a maid (a very young and smoking hot Angela Lansbury) as an ally, telling her in his charming way that his wife doesn’t know what is for her own good. In addition Gregory hires an almost deaf housekeeper who never hears the sounds Paula hears. Gregory bullies Paula consistently through the guise of love until Paula questions her own sanity. He slowly and systematically cuts her off from family friends and others who might be concerned for her welfare and then as coup d’état, tells the housekeeper and maid not to let anyone in the house or to let Paula leave it, for her own “good.”

Luckily for Paula, Brian Cameron, Scotland Yard detective, (Joseph Cotten) was a big fan of Paula’s aunt, who was a prima donna he saw perform when he was a child. He has taken a special interest in Paula and notices that Gregory seems shady at best. Brian has always wondered who killed Paula’s aunt, and Gregory looks a little familiar to him.

As the movie reaches its climax, Paula confronts Gregory. (I believe this scene was probably crucial in getting Ingrid Bergman her Academy Award for this role.) She is so angry and cutting—it is a beautiful to behold and the viewer wishes every woman (or man) who has been abused by a master manipulator, someone who took their love and trust and goodwill and turned it on them to make them question their sanity and their competence as a human being, would get a chance to face their abuser in the same manner.

What I find so interesting about this movie (in addition to its overall strong script and all-around solid acting performances) is that domestic violence and abuse was not exactly front and center in 1944. Certainly there wasn’t the information we have available about it now, nor the social services. (We still don’t have enough social services but we have many more than were available in the 1940s.) Yet, this movie captures perfectly what can happen when one person with a trusting heart, and one person with malicious intent (or a lot of issues) can do to just the average person who trusts them.

Even if the psychology of violence and abuse doesn’t interest you, you are sure to enjoy the performances of Bergman, Lansbury, Boyer and Cotten. This classic continued to hold up well, even over 60 years later.

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ESPN 30 For 30: The Price of Gold

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ESPN 30 For 30: The Price of Gold
This Catch Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Year of Release: 2014
Spoilers: If you need a spoiler alert for this documentary, you were either not alive yet or living under a rock in 1994.
Currently Streaming on Netflix? Yes.
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One of my happiest childhood memories is asking my mother to back the cars off of the carport so the neighborhood girls and I could skate on it until dark. We pulled our hair back in tight buns, strapped on some clunky neon rollerblades, and pretended that we were our famous favorites competing for the gold medal: Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski.
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If you were a young girl in the 1990s, you probably remember being very much into figure skating. And if you were, I’m sure that it had a lot to do with the dazzling costumes, the spirited routines, and the refined elegance that so eludes gangly ten year olds. But it probably also had a lot to do with Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
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Twenty years later, director Nanette Burstein’s The Price of Gold explores not only the details of the scandal, but the dire poverty and abuse in Tonya Harding’s world that added fuel to an already competitive fire. Tonya’s background, as reporter Ann Schatz explains, is absolutely essential in understanding the attack. (Disclaimer: I don’t find Tonya Harding very likeable, and I don’t think I’m alone here. At 44, she is basically a bratty teenager in an adult’s body, complaining that the judges didn’t like her dress yet telling Nancy to “shut up” about her disappointing silver medal win. She’s brash, inarticulate, and stubbornly committed to proving her innocence. But after watching footage and hearing stories from her childhood, I can certainly see why she doesn’t have both oars in the water.)
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Tonya Harding, as several of the interviewees discuss, grew up in a cluttered rental house in Oregon. Though her mother used what little money the family had to finance Tonya’s interest in ice skating, she often verbally abused and physically beat Tonya. The documentary captures one moment in particular when, over the phone after a performance, Tonya’s mother berates her for “looking terrible” on the ice. Suddenly, it becomes clear that Tonya’s drive is about more than just money – she has something to prove. Like so many children from broken homes, Tonya uses a hobby to temporary escape her pain. The problem is that despite all of her talent and dedication, young Tonya is given a very poor example of how loving relationships work, and later falls in love with the abusive Jeff Gillooly.
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There’s also the issue of Tonya not fitting the proper “ice princess” mold. After Dorothy Hamill graced television screens with her glossy bob and feminine composure in the 1970s, figure skating demanded a certain image. Tonya, all curls and moxie, appealed to girls around the country who identified with her humble beginnings and boyish persona. But Nancy Kerrigan was the class act ‘90s figure skating had been waiting for – composed, polished, and strikingly beautiful. And so right along with Nancy’s popularity rose Tonya’s envy, which came to a head with one whack of a pipe.
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I’m going to sound like Stefan from SNL here, but this documentary has everything. A soap-opera storyline: beloved ice princess nearly taken out by ‘bad girl’ rival and her band of thugs, only to fully recover and win an Olympic medal. A thorough detailing of the investigation for all the criminal justice nerds out there, followed by a disbelieving reaction to just how bad the entire plan was. Memorable clips for those of us who were hopelessly glued to our TVs in 1994: the interview with Ann Schatz that Tonya mostly spent looking fearfully over at her then-husband, Tonya’s oh so obvious body language during her pre-Olympic press conference. And Scott Hamilton! If you find yourself with 78 minutes to spare and are jonesing for some ‘90s nostalgia, The Price of Gold is a great use of your time.
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Unsurprisingly, Nancy Kerrigan declined to contribute to this documentary. Tonya, however, relishes any opportunity to talk about herself, and when the film wraps up with even more of her adamant denial, I can’t say that I expected anything else. Like all the best tragedies, Tonya’s pride leads to her downfall, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy she is finally a household name. Just not in a way she had ever dreamed of.