Watching Gaslight With My Son, Cross-Faded
It is a joy to teach things to my son.
This is a free post from The Real Sarah Miller. If you like it, you can subscribe.
On Saturday night my son and I got cross-faded. Getting cross-faded is rarely a good idea, but it happens.
My son is not my son. They are just a friend of mine who is about half my age, and a few weeks ago I wrote them a text message that was supposed to say “come over soon” and instead came out “come over son.” So now they are My Son.
Here is how we came to get extremely cross-faded. We split a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and ate dinner, sauteed garlic and zucchini with spaghetti and feta cheese. “This is so good,” said my son, and I said, “I enjoy creating simple, healthful dishes for my son.”
This would have been a reasonable evening and it was the evening we intended to have but it was not the evening we had.
We decided to watch Gaslight, a movie I’ve always wanted my son to see not because it’s my favorite but because about a year ago they asked me “Does the word gaslight really come from a movie called Gaslight?” and I said yes, yes it did . “That’s crazy,” my son said. “How come no one ever told me that? Is that really true?” I said I did not know why no one ever told them that but yes it was true. It is a joy to teach things to my son.
It took us a while to get Gaslight going on the old television set. We had to call T. who was in Colorado selling things, and the two of them got it all figured out while I sat on the sofa and complained about how hard it all was.
Soon they had Gaslight up and running and my son rolled a joint and wanted to know if I had a grinder, like to make the weed all perfect. I said I did not. “You need a pot tray, with a grinder, so when you have guests over you just whip out your pot tray, with everything on it that you need,” they said. We agreed that the only thing positive about family values was hospitality.
We got a little too excited about seeing Gaslight and were smoking the pot like cigarettes and also drinking Scotch. At some point we had a conversation about not wanting to have hangovers but then we just forgot. We kept stopping the movie to talk about it. Part of this was my fault because they would say things like “This movie is really ahead of its time,” and I felt the need to pause and explain that it was and it wasn’t. Stop doing that, I told myself, your son will make their way through life just fine without your having to precisely calibrate their Ideal Feminist Response to All Media.
“Ingrid Bergman is so pretty,” said my son at one point. “Her life must have been hard, being that pretty.” This was their first time seeing Ingrid Bergman. We agreed they would give me a pot tray and I would get them a biography of Ingrid Bergman.
When we got to the part of Gaslight where Paula returns with Gregory to the creepy house in London where she used to live with her aunt and they behold her aunt’s portrait above the fireplace, I burst out laughing. The dress her aunt was wearing in the portrait had these crazy jeweled swirly accents over the breast area, and at the center of the spiral was a big jeweled nipple. My friend asked why I was laughing, and I said the dress was so over-the-top sexual, that I just pictured the gay art director who put this portrait in the movie or had it commissioned or whatever laughing his ass off that he had managed to get this filthy sex dress onto the screen.
But my son thought the art director was a straight man. “I just think that dress is too male-gazey for it to be a gay man,” said my son knowledgeably.
I knew absolutely nothing about this movie. I saw it once when I was maybe my son’s age. But I got that thing you get in your head sometimes that feeling of I AM RIGHT AND THIS PERSON IS WRONG and does understand the WORLD but then it is MULTIPLIED and DRAMATIZED by being majorly CROSS-FADED.
“If we look up the art director of this movie it will be a gay man,” I said. “I guaran-fuckingtee you.”
My son just looked at me, like a daughter might look at you, like “it’s so sad how foolish you are you naive old straight woman who doesn’t understand oppression and particularly doesn’t understand how bad straight men are even though you’re actually the one who goes out with and lives with them, you old coot.”
What happened next was a lot of feverish and competitive googling on our phones. Weirdly, we did not find an art director for Gaslight. We tried set decorator and also found nothing. I am not saying those people don’t exist, only that we didn’t find them because we were probably trying so hard to out-google each other and were wasted. It didn’t even occur to us to try costume designer, which, well. Finally I said, OK, let’s just google the director, and my son got it up first, George Cukor, and we went to his Wikipedia page together, heads bent over their phone, and I cried out “personal life personal life click personal life” and my son clicked and together we read the words:
“It was an open secret in Hollywood that Cukor was gay.”
We screeched with delight and hugged each other. Ruthie jumped up on the couch and began to bark. We screamed more as we read the rest aloud:
It was an open secret in Hollywood that Cukor was gay, at a time when society was against it, although he was discreet about his sexual orientation and "never carried it as a pin on his lapel," as producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz put it. He was a celebrated bon vivant whose luxurious home was the site of weekly Sunday afternoon parties attended by closeted celebrities and the attractive young men they met in bars and gyms and brought with them. At least once, in the midst of his reign at MGM, he was arrested on vice charges, but studio executives managed to get the charges dropped and all records of it expunged, and the incident was never publicized by the press. In the late 1950s, Cukor became involved with a considerably younger man named George Towers. He financed his education at the Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences and the University of Southern California, from which Towers graduated with a law degree in 1967. That fall Towers married a woman, and his relationship with Cukor evolved into one of father and son, and for the remainder of Cukor's life the two remained very close.
My son was so happy and proud of me. “You were right,” they cried. “How did you know that?”
I shrugged and said it was just obvious to me that the person behind that dress was a gay man, not a straight one, and I just knew this because ... I don’t know! “The dress was just speaking to me,” I said. “Telling me things.” I know a lot of you are sitting there thinking “How did she not know who George Cukor was, how did she not know he was gay”, and that’s not the point. The point is that we had a fun time getting cross-faded and watching a movie and googling things.
The next day I asked my son if it was their fault we got so fucking cross-faded or mine or both of ours. They said it was both of ours. We went out to brunch. We got Bloody Marys and held them to our pounding heads.
I told them about a book I had just read called The Jakarta Method about how the United States had successfully repressed growing communist movements all over the world. As I was talking a woman in an ugly white eyelet sundress and lots of filler in her face walked by with a big husband or boyfriend. He was wearing a baseball hat that telegraphed “I live in California, please honor me.” The woman stared at my son and rolled her eyes and her mouth opened in shocked disgust.
“Weird” I said after she was gone, trying to process it all. “What just—happened?”
“Oh,” said my son, who is very beautiful. “She just probably looked at me from the back and thought I was a dude and thought I was hot and then she saw my tits and got all skeeved out that she was thinking about fucking me. It happens to me all the time.”
We sat in silence for a while and then my son looked at me sincerely and asked, “What was the Red Scare like?”
I laughed into my glass. “I’m not that old,” I said. “It was in the 50s.”
“Oh,” they said. “I guess I thought it was sort of—ongoing.”
I told my son they had a good point.
Today, I googled all of that movie stuff again, sober, and in fact Gaslight did have an art director. His name was Cedric Gibbons, he also designed the Oscar, and he had three wives, the last of whom was 30 years his junior. I told my son. “Three wives!” They howled. “Why didn’t the director just hire more of his gay friends?”
Gaslight had a very famous costume designer named Irene. Just Irene. I supposed we could have seen her name if we’d been able to watch the credits but it took us about four hours to get through the movie so we missed them. Irene also did the costumes for The Postman Always Rings Twice. We will watch that next, sober.
If you liked this post consider subscribing.