Kris Rothstein's Blog

VIFF 2017: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Kris Rothstein

I've been listening to a lot of episodes of the podcast You Must Remember This, which tells obscure stories from Hollywood history. Because of this I was in the perfect frame of mind to see Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. What is amazing is how many of these incredibly famous Hollywood stars are remembered for one film, one photograph or even one incident from their personal life. Much more than that remains unknown, even to cinephiles.

Hedy Lamarr is a recognizable name and has a famous glamorous image. And yet I have never seen her films (she didn't get offered the best roles) and I knew nothing about her. If this biography had just been the story of her time in Hollywood it would have been interesting enough. But Bombshell is the story of much bigger things, both specific and universal. She was Austrian and Jewish and became a celebrity when she she starred in a sensual film at the age of fifteen. She then married a munitions mogul, also Jewish, who was interested in her as arm candy and controlled her every move. The story is that she escaped a few years later in the dark of night, with just clothes on her back disguised as her maid! She made her way to England and began her quest to become a Hollywood star.

She was considered the most glamorous-looking woman but Hedy very much desired to help the war effort as more than a famous salesperson for war bonds. It was because of this that she turned her mind to inventing. Her beloved father had always supported her childhood interest in chemistry and science and that gave her confidence in her abilities. She developed an idea for a communication system to better control and conceal torpedoes using a sophisticated code called frequency hopping. She collaborated with composer George Antheil who used player piano reels for the coding, and they registered a patent which was sent to the US Navy as a promising project. Sadly the invention was ignored but frequency hopping is now an integral part of Internet technology.

American filmmaker Alexandra Dean emphasizes how women in Hollywood (and outside it as well) were not permitted to be both beautiful and smart. And the pressure to remain beautiful drove Hedy Lamarr to dark places. She had mental breakdowns (possibly due to the pills given by studios to all or most of their actresses for decades) and later in life she was disfigured by a reliance on plastic surgery. Her outdated films and image became the butt of jokes. Yet this is still a tale of triumph and hope and Hedy lived long enough to be honoured for her pioneering ideas. The story is original and well-researched and this is solid filmmaking, accomplished without gimmicks or pretense.

Plays Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 9:30 PM at International Village 10 and Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 3:45 PM at Vancouver Playhouse.



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