Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ingrid Bergman As the Forgotten Catalyst of the #MeToo Movement

After a loooooong hiatus, probably the longest one I've taken because I just didn't know what I could say in a world of more turmoil than most of us can handle. Example: My last post was about gun control and how it's intimately tied to nationalist seeds that were planted in the 90's when there was too much domestic terrorism going around. Interestingly enough, this wast in response the Charlottesville rally, way before #NeverAgain and the shootings in Parkland and subsequent student outcries and marches. It's as if the minute you think of something important and culturally appropriate to write, something else happens before you type your first sentence. Our world under the Trump administration is 'sour cream in the sauna' as Patton Oswalt put it. The minute you think you have something important to say about one catastrophe another one comes around and that one becomes moot. And after a while you're depressed thinking; what's the damn point? However this blog was started about film tv and the media, and in my account I noticed many drafts that I started but never finished; about Taylor Swift's new ridiculous album where she reinvents herself and contradicts herself at the same time and why do we care ...the brilliance of the Ryan Murphy machine and why I believe that American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace contrary to popular opinion was actually pretty brilliant. But I had lost my mojo. Sounds better than I'd lost my will to give a shit. 
Today a movie I had heard of, but had never seen was on TCM and I watched it because I love (I was about to say 'old movies' but that's so disrespectful) The Golden Age of Hollywood and everyone knows how much I geek out on that shit. I had heard the psychological term that was taken from the title of this film, surprisingly from my therapist but never really understood what it was about until I watched the film Gaslight (1944). It stars Ingrid Bergman in an Academy Award-winning performance, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotton. Because it's a 1940's film there has to be an angle and an actual diabolical plot, but I can see why the term 'gaslighting' comes from the film. For those not in the know, first of all good for you ...but we've probably all been gaslighted in one way or another, usually by a person close to us and intimate in our lives. It means when a person systematically and psychologically wears you down and makes you mentally weak; making your ability to recognize your decisions, your opinions, and your very relationship to reality to be questioned. Ingrid plays the victim of gaslighting before psychological therapy was even a thing. What really got to me was that Bergman is able to not necessarily recognize what is happening to her, is able to get away (with male help) but still. 
A beaten down, psychologically exhausted Bergman shows in her eyes that she's had enough. 
Most people, when they think of Ingrid Bergman they have the picture from Casablanca (1941) in their mind when an emotional beauty asks Humphrey Bogart how she will go one without him and he just hold her chin and says 'we'll always have Paris.' Then she waves at her one true love through a fog as she climbs on a plane that will take her to safety. But her career has taken a turn for the more inadvertently sociopolitical since then.
Then it made me think of other Bergman films and realized that there is a fundamental feminist thread inadvertently running through her film career and her roles. She almost always plays a victim of some kind of psychological torture. Another famous example is Spellbound (1945) directed by Alfred Hitchcock and co-starring Gregory Peck, where his character has amnesia and she plays HIS therapist and to get him to remember his past correctly she must travel to the darkest depths of his subconscious and risk her own sanity in the process. 
Moving to the 50's, she at that time had been ostracized by the Hollywood community for leaving her family to marry Roberto Rosselini and have children with him. It must've hard to be blacklisted like that for personal decisions. Yul Brynner costarred with her in Anastasia (1956) for which she won her second Academy Award (and not her last one), and he in fact said that unless she was cast, he wouldn't do the film. She (again) plays a woman with many psychological dysfunctions and appears to be weak emotionally and mentally. And yet, she always overcomes, and how more feminist can something like that be, even in those times? When the patriarchy is not only not in your favor, but is telling you that everything you say or do is wrong, and you have the courage to stand up to that and say; I don't care. I know who I am and you can stop trying to take that away from me. 
A woman found about to kill herself on the banks of the Siene River is rescued by Yul Brynner but through her own initiative takes her rightful place among what she knows is her destiny. 
It was cataclysmic in the 40's and 50's. Most people would point out Katherine Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe for being so overtly opinionated and strong whether they use intellect or their sexuality as their weapon, but to look at Ingrid Bergman and her behavior both on and off the screen would make her at the crux of the #MeToo movement. 
To back track just a little. My favorite film of hers was always the Hitchcock film Notorious (1941) where she plays opposite Cary Grant as a spy. Here's the background. Her character Alicia a party girl and quite the drunk, which is understandable considering her father was just prosecuted and jailed for Nazi war crimes and she wants nothing to do with him or his affiliations. To redeem herself, she is offered a job by the American government as a spy to infiltrate a Nazi collective in Argentina and is made to go further and further into the inner circle until she is proposed to by a Nazi war criminal. She decides for the sake of the mission to accept, throwing herself into greater danger. Once her husband discovers that he's married to an American agent, he and his mother decide to slowly poison her so that they can kill her but it wouldn't look like murder. After a while, she gets wind of exactly what's going on but decides to see the mission through, and it is only because they have weakened her so much physically that she is unable to save herself and Cary Grant has to swoop in and literally carry her out of the house to safety. 

Adapting a more androgynous look, trying futility to hide her incredible beauty, Bergman knows that she is a pawn in a game between covert operations by the United States and the clandestine Nazis in Argentina and still fully throws herself into danger, because she can handle anything anyone throws at her in Notorious (1945). 
But her gall, fearlessness,  off the wall intelligence and intuition, is absolutely astounding in this film. I wish every young girl can see any of Bergman's work because she was a role model without even knowing it. Yes, she did what she wanted, and she put every part of herself into her very complicated roles and left her blood and sweat on the floor. She did it with class, with grace, and with an unshakable sense of assertion. She brings strength to very vulnerable characters and gives women a voice and a dignity in an era when that was most usually overlooked. She gave women a great role model whether she meant to or not, and she did it over 60 years ago. She did this by being hyperaware of the type of woman she wanted to be and to portray, and did it with absolutely no fear. She's not trying to be 'as good as a man'. She's being a woman, and a woman who is stronger and better than a man could ever aspire to be.

Some clips below to entice you: 

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