James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
Film Review: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)
Directed by Alexandra Dean
Reviewed by James Rosario on March 6, 2018
Bombshell tells a hell of a story. Going in, I knew very little of Hedy Lamarr, and now I want to know more. That’s the unfortunate curse of many documentaries: there’s only enough time to scratch the surface. Bombshell is no different, and that’s a shame, because the life Lamarr is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and fascinating tales producible. If a screenwriter wrote out her life story in script form, it would be hard to swallow. An immigrant movie starlet and sex-symbol who starred in Austria’s most controversial film (Ecstasy, from 1933) is also a world-class inventor whose ideas paved the way for how we communicate today? That’s not plausible, you’d say. That’s too far-fetched—that’s something out of a comic book. But, nevertheless, here we are—and it’s all true.
I’ll get the negatives out of the way quickly before we get too far. It’s common in modern documentaries to take the “Ken Burns Effect” to the next level by animating a section of the photos shown. When done correctly, this is an intriguing way to produce movement. When done incorrectly, it can look cheap and amateurish. The success of this process in Bombshell could have been better—and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Make of that what you will.
The other negative I’ve already mentioned above, and is all too common in these types of documentaries. It’s simple: I want to know more. Hedy Lamarr, an immigrant who spoke no English, finagled a contract out of Louis B. Mayer, became one of most beautiful, iconic, and talented women in Hollywood (of any era) also invented the concepts that are now used in GPS, WiFi, and Bluetooth technology (she called it “Frequency Hopping,” and it was originally designed to better aim torpedoes without the signal being jammed during WWII). That is absolutely unreal and wildly inspiring. While the film captures all of that, it doesn’t capture enough of it. I want more, plain and simple.
The positives outweigh these negatives though because the story is just that good. Lamarr’s voice on the cassette recordings that make up the back-bone of the film are a pure joy to listen to. She has so much charm and class that it’s infectious. And that sense of humor! It makes you want to slap every one of her ex-husbands in the face. That almost no one in her life was ever able to get past her looks—to get to know her as a real live person—is infuriating and tragic.
This of course is the crux of the film. Underneath the beauty and glamor was a woman who had ambitions that stretched far outside of what was expected of her, and accepted by society. She’d shoot a movie during the day, then go home and work on inventions to help the war effort at night. Still, men never got past her looks (except maybe for Howard Hughes, who she collaborated on new airplane designs with—but he had issues all his own). Bombshell serves, at least in part, as an indictment of male stupidity and shallowness across the board.
Her later years were wrought with financial woes and botched plastic surgeries which forced her from the public eye. It’s sad that, even a woman with the kind of smarts that Lamarr had, in the end, she wound up obsessed with her looks just as everyone else had been her entire life. However, even though this may be the case, the technology with which I am about to submit this review was pioneered by an immigrant actress from Austria-Hungary who not only changed the face of Hollywood beauty, but whose intellect paved the way for how the world communicates today. What a woman. I'm glad her story is being told regardless of depth.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is now playing at Grail Moviehouse.
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