Even though Alexandra Dean’s documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is ostensibly about the life and career of the gorgeous, taboo-breaking actress Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), its winding path of information reveals the woman stood much greater than her resplendent screen presence.
Genius. Maverick. Inventor. Feminist pioneer. All of these descriptors apply to Lamarr. From her days of “walking into a room and having the whole room stop and stare” to a dilapidated, hermit lifestyle (and the butt of jokes from the likes of Mel Brooks and Andy Warhol within their various films), Dean’s effort portrays the actress as a complicated and conflicted character.
Breezing through six marriages that would have Freud jealous of the possible implications of father-abandonment issues, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story goes far beyond salacious Hollywood biography. Yes, there are those tidbits too. But did you know she created the idea of “frequency hopping” that informs the basic principles of wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS manufacturing today? Probably not, since the United States Navy shoved it aside and never gave the proper acknowledgement of this technology borne from someone as untrained as a beautiful Viennese-to-Hollywood transplant. And female at that.
In telling Lamarr’s story, filmmaker Dean has crafted a kinetic, almost restless vision of the woman both in her personal and private lives. Like Asif Kapadia’s Amy (2015, about singer Amy Winehouse), director Dean told me in a quick chat session that Lamarr’s story was never meant to be a simple history lesson.
Fluidly crafted from a voracious cache of home movies, film clips, still photos, family interviews and four cassette-taped interviews conducted with Lamarr in the late 80’s that were eventually discovered stashed away in the garage of a magazine writer, Dean ultimately scrapped six months worth of editing and re-tailored her film to be a moving portrait of the star via these collated elements. And it shows. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story fascinates the longer it runs, in part because of so much archival information.
The du jour moment for retelling star struck lives of the Hollywood elite has been in a boom recently, but Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is altogether different because of the immense unpredictability and hidden wisdom outside her career. Watching Lamarr saunter around in White Cargo (1942) or attempt to explain away her celluloid burning charisma in Ecstasy (1933) as naivete on the part of her young age and directorial manipulation, Lamarr clearly was a woman who understood how to use her powers of beauty early on. But what’s fascinating about Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is the emerging paean to a screen goddess whose outer beauty was overshadowed only by her inner intelligence.
(Portions of this review were published earlier last year when the film premiered locally at Dallas VideoFest.)
The film opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, January 26 at the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art. Check http://www.themodern.org for details.