Film Pop: Gaslight

Year: 1944
Director: George Cukor
Stars: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten
IMDb

As I mentioned recently, I don’t watch very many films at all at the moment – I’m way too busy reading.  Last night, however, my girlfriend and I sat down to watch Gaslight, specifically the 1944 American-produced version (following the 1940 film adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play).  This was a film we’d been meaning to watch for a few months now, after she’d introduced me to the term “gaslighting”, a form of psychological abuse owing its name to the play and its adaptations.  All will become clear.

The film opens with reports of the London murder of Alice Alquist, famous opera singer, before cutting forward to Italy several years later, where her niece, Paula (Bergman) is receiving musical training from a man who once coached Alice herself.  However, Paula has had her head turned by Gregory Anton (Boyer), losing passion for her studies, and soon abandons her tutelage to marry him.  He persuades her to move back to the house where her aunt was murdered (in which Paula had lived at the time).  Among her aunt’s possessions, which are swiftly moved to the loft for Paula’s peace of mind, she finds a letter dated two days before the murder from a man named “Sergius Bauer” which could help solve the yet-uncracked case; Gregory swiftly relinquishes her of this and keeps it to himself.

Soon afterwards, strange events begin to happen around Paula which she is unable to explain.  She begins to misplace glightitems, finding them in places she is sure she didn’t put them (or not finding them at all).  Meanwhile, a man in the park recognises in Gregory a man whom he thought to be dead – this man, who turns out to be Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (Cotten) starts to use his connections to investigate the matter.  These investigations are not helped by Gregory, who makes every effort to isolate his wife from the world, thereby encouraging her feelings of confusion and persecution – feelings which are increasingly revealed as justified, as it becomes evident that Gregory is deliberately misleading his wife in an attempt to convince her that she is going mad (i.e., “gaslighting” her).  Furthermore, Cameron’s investigations reveal that Gregory Anton is none other than Sergius Bauer, author of the mysterious letter and murderer of Alice Alquist.  He married Paula in order to find some precious stones, for which he had killed her aunt but failed to locate.  In the dénoument, he finds these jewels, but not before his atrocious behaviour is revealed to his wife by the heroic Cameron, who has arrived to detain the murderer and thief…

Gaslight is definitely worth watching, at least as much for its cultural significance as for its inherent quality as a film.  It suffers a little from traditional 40s over-acting, with a few interesting accents, but overall it’s a well-produced movie.  It also has some significance as the screen début of Angela Lansbury, aged 18, as a coarse maid who is either in on Gregory’s plot or just plain nasty.  But the idea behind the plot is a powerful and quite disturbing notion of abuse, making Anton one of the more despicable characters to grace my screen.  His eventual comeuppance is long-awaited and well-deserved, and the satisfaction of that is perhaps the highlight of the film.

 

My Rating: 8/10

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Film Pop: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Year: 2011
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
IMDb

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the Oscar-nominated tale of a young boy coping in his own peculiar way with the death of his father in the September 11th attacks. Thomas Schell (Hanks) is always setting little challenges for his nine-year-old son Oskar (Horn) in order to teach him about life. After Thomas is caught attending a meeting in the World Trade Centre on “the Worst Day”, young Oskar is thrown into personal chaos, rejecting the affections of his mother (Bullock) to go on an epic adventure he believes his father intended for him. He is soon joined in his quest by his grandmother’s mysterious mute “renter” (Oscar nominee Max von Sydow), and the two journey throughout the five boroughs of New York in a seemingly impossible search for answers. They encounter a whole host of interesting characters (most of whom share the name Black) and learn a lot about life, each other and themselves.

It’s touching in parts, but a lot of the action seems unnecessary and perhaps the two-hour plus running time is a little too much for what it is. It’s also slightly annoying that, having no idea what the film was about beforehand, from the two names at the top of the DVD case I was expecting a little more Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Instead I was made to sit through two hours of a somewhat annoying kid and this had me a little put out throughout. Nevertheless, despite the somewhat heavy subject matter the film displays an optimism in the face of adversity that can only serve to inspire even if it is a little hard to relate to some of the issues Oskar seems to struggle with.

This film marks the ninth of ten Best Picture nominees from 2011 that I’ve now seen, coming somewhere in the middle of a decidedly mediocre bunch (Midnight in Paris, the one I most wanted to see all along, has still managed to elude me and will probably let me down when the time comes). It was adapted from the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, and as usual I haven’t read this (yet) so can’t pass judgement on that side of things. The theme of “child comes to terms with loss of parent” isn’t exactly an original one, but the approach is interesting and the emotive setting will certainly reach out to some perhaps more than it did to me.

So Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a little long and a little fantastical but I’d say it’s definitely one worth watching. At its best it’s highly moving, even if these moments are buried slightly too deep in dawdling drama, and at its worst it would be harsh to call it a bad film. Despite the feeling that I was tricked into watching it, it held my attention and came close to moving my emotions, which isn’t the easiest thing for a film to do. It’s not quite something I expect to watch again any time soon, but at least I don’t regret watching it in the first place.

My Rating: 6.5/10