BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (Documentary) — TriBeCa Film Festival Review

The history of science is littered with unknown individuals who labored in obscurity, robbed of credit and remuneration for the inventions they created; but it’s surprising when that individual is someone as iconic as legendary silver screen star Hedy Lamarr, as explored in the engaging and fascinating new documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, directed by Alexandra Dean, executive produced by Susan Sarandon. Narrated by Diane Kruger, the film delves into the complicated background of someone once known as the most beautiful woman in the world but whose invaluable scientific contribution she made was shrouded in anonymity.

Lamarr was born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna, Austria in 1916 to assimilated Jewish parents. She quickly developed two lifelong characteristics: her insatiable need to invent and her stunning physical beauty. A self-professed “enfant terrible”, she was already disassembling and reassembling her music box before the age of 9 as part of her relentless attempt to learn and create. As her mind quickly developed, so did her body and beauty. And she knew it. At 16 years old she announced her intention to become an actress and promptly marched down to one of the major Austrian film studios. Within 3 days, she was shooting a walk on part and her long career had begun.

A woman who loved defying convention, she nevertheless was not the architect behind her earliest and possibly most famous contretemps – a starring role in the film Ekstase (“Extasy”) in which she appeared fully nude and portrayed the first orgasm ever shown in a mainstream film. She was 17 years old. The film shocked the world, and even though her first husband (whom she married two years later) attempted to stamp it out by buying up all of the prints, it stubbornly trailed her over the years, sabotaging efforts to be taken seriously.

By the time the war started she had left her munitions manufacturing husband and decamped to Hollywood, with a contract to work for Louis B. Mayer. There she mixed and mingled with stars of the golden era and magnates like Howard Hughes, who helped launch her scientific career. He reaped benefits from her aeronautical engineering solution of raked wings and tail fins to allow for greater speed in flight. Her greatest contribution (and greatest injustice) was yet to come.

Dean details Lamarr’s early success as an actress and simultaneous struggle to be taken seriously as a scientist. It makes the following decline, drugs and self-destructive surgeries all the more tragic. Lamarr was dismissed out of hand by men and relegated to selling war bonds and appearing in B-grade sexually tinged films for MGM and it seems impossible that there was no link between this marginalization and her subsequent numerous failed marriages and financial troubles.

Interviews round out the story, with her son and daughter, and Hollywood figures such as Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, the late Robert Osborne and Diane Kruger; but the star of the story is Hedy herself, captured on audiotape for an interview conducted by Forbes Magazine’s Fleming Meeks in 1990. She narrates her own story, her successes and failures as an actress, producer and inventor… revealing her quiet humor and lingering pain at having only ever been seen as just another pretty face. She was a pioneering woman born ahead of her time… And serves as a role model for women who refuse to be sidelined.

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