Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, February 22, 2019

'Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story' is a sobering documentary long overdue

"Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" opens March 2.

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” tells the tale of World War II inventor and actress  Hedy Lamarr, a tale Lamarr spent years trying to share. Directed by Alexandra Dean, the documentary focuses particularly on Lamarr’s revolutionary invention of frequency hopping, which helped the Allies create a new remote-controlled torpedo. Throughout the years Lamarr never received credit for her work until the end of her life, and never got paid by the U.S. military for her patent. This was because she was seen as just a “pretty face” and an object, but not an illustrious thinker and inventor.

Hedy Lamarr lived a tumultuous life. Born in Austria to a Jewish family, Lamarr emigrated to the United States in 1937 to escape the Nazis. It wasn’t long after moving that Lamarr became an icon, starring in films like “Algiers” which made her an international sensation. This fame however, came at a price for Lamarr: nobody took her seriously.

The documentary builds on this idea by showing how Lamarr was viewed as  a “sex-symbol” and how being in the public eye made her feel pressured. She was never taken seriously since the sexist thinking of men in power at the time refused to see her as both beautiful and a genius. The documentary also wisely notes and critiques the public ridicule she received. The tabloids never left her alone, and later in her career she was seen as a caricature of herself. Still, Lamarr remained resilient, continued to stay true to herself,  and refused to let other people dictate her life or who she was, despite the emotional toll it took on her.

The documentary, though straightforward in style and structure, expertly paints a picture of what Lamarr was like as a person, showing different facets of her life to the point where the viewer feels like they actually knew her. The passion Dean has telling the story of Lamarr really shines through. Her anger that Lamarr never received enough credit seeps through the screen and really makes this documentary a gut-punch.

The music in this documentary is very effective at capturing the mood of the particular subject, and fits perfectly with the vast array of clips that are shown of her life. The documentary also did a very fine job explaining Lamarr’s invention, how revolutionary it was for the Allies in World War II and how it has influenced the devices that we use today. Lamarr’s extraordinary invention laid the groundwork for modern satellite communications and even Wi-Fi.

If there’s one thing to take away from this sobering documentary, it’s to not always believe what is being said about influencers or celebrities. How tabloids can label someone like Lindsay Lohan as “crazy” without knowing what hardships she’s gone through, or label Lamarr as the same without acknowledging the sacrifices she’s made is unjust, unfair, and at times even inhumane.

Grade: A-

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” begins its exclusive Washington, D.C. engagement today at E Street Cinema.

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