RiveRun Retro drops a ‘Bombshell’
With the 21st annual RiverRun International Film Festival scheduled for April 4-14, the festival turns up the heat for its first “RiverRun Retro” screening event for 2019 – writer/producer/editor/director Alexandra Dean’s award-winning documentary feature Bombshell: The Life of Hedy Lamarr, which will be screened Jan. 26 at Hanesbrands Theatre in downtown Winston-Salem with the filmmaker in attendance.
For many film fans, Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was the epitome of glamour. Born Hedwig Eva Kiesler in Austria, she caused an international furor with her uninhibited star turn in the scandalous Ecstasy (1933), then – after fleeing Europe during the Nazi onslaught – scored an instant triumph in her Hollywood debut opposite Charles Boyer in Algiers (1938).
Her other notable film appearances included the 1940 blockbuster Boom Town with Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, opposite Gable again in Comrade X (also 1940), Ziegfield Girl (1941) with James Stewart and Judy Garland, Tortilla Flat (1941) with Tracy and John Garfield, My Favorite Spy (1951) with Bob Hope, playing Joan of Arc in Irwin Allen’s star-studded 1957 fantasy The Story of Mankind, and probably her best-known role, starring opposite Victor Mature in the Cecil B. DeMille Biblical epic Samson and Delilah (1949). (It should be obvious which character she played.)
Lamarr also produced three of her own films: The Strange Woman (1946), Dishonored Lady (1947), and Let’s Live a Little (1948). She made her final film appearance in the 1959 film noir The Female Animal. Regarding her status as a big-screen sex siren, Lamarr reportedly said: “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
Such outspokenness did not go unnoticed. In 1949, Lamarr received the “Sour Apple” award as Least Cooperative Actress, although she was in good company as Humphrey Bogart was named Least Cooperative Actor.
In 1960, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was previously the subject of the documentary feature Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004).
In later years, Lamarr lived up to her image as a woman of mystery. Six times married (and divorced), she had three children and spent her later years in seclusion, making tabloid headlines for a pair of shoplifting charges and when she sued Mel Brooks and Warner Bros. over the use of the name “Hedley LaMarr” for the Harvey Korman character in the comedy smash Blazing Saddles (1974).
But what even her most fervent fans didn’t know is that Lamarr had a brilliant mind and was instrumental in pioneering radio technology that would eventually lead to the development of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame of 2014.
Bombshell marks Dean’s debut feature, and “it had to be Hedy for my first feature because I really wanted to do a film about the ways in which women can be erased from history because of how they look or sound,” she said. “People just didn’t believe women could be great inventors, so Hedy’s extraordinary story was lost.”
Delving into Lamarr’s story was not unlike detective work, Dean said.
“Her story was endlessly surprising to me,” she said. “We had no idea about half the stories in Bombshell before we began investigating her story. We didn’t even have any material where she told her story in her own words before we began!”
Thus would occur the most unexpected, and most welcome, surprise of the project, Dean said. “We had called everyone on earth we could think of who might have some record of her story that had never been found when I finally contacted Fleming Meeks, a journalist who had interviewed her for a short article in Forbes Magazine in 1990. He picked up the phone and said, ‘I’ve been waiting 20 years for you to call me. I have the tapes.’ It still gives me chills.”
Admittedly, “Hedy as a film icon definitely took a back seat to Hedy the inventor in my film,” Dean explained, “but I think that was justified because the inventor side was what the public didn’t know, and it was what she wanted to talk about on the tapes. Once we had her voice telling her story, we really followed her lead and let her tell us what was important to focus on in her life.”
In addition to the critical raves Bombshell has received, the film has also racked up numerous awards: At the 2017 Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, it won both the Audience Award (Feature) and the Cleo Visualizing History Award; It was the winner of the Adrienne Shelly Excellence in Filmmaking Award (named for the late actress and filmmaker) at the 2017 Nantucket Film Festival; winner of the New York Film Critics, Online Award as Best Documentary; the Audience Award at the 2017 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; Best Film at the 2017 Scottsdale International Film Festival; and winner of the Karen Morley Award and Best Documentary by or About Women at the 2017 Women Film Critics Circle Awards (tying in the latter category with Jane).
“She was an endlessly complicated woman,” Dean observed. “She once seduced a surgeon to get free plastic surgery for a friend – you can’t get more complicated than that! People were forthcoming about her real nature, and for that, I’m very grateful because we were able to bring all of that rich complexity into the film.”
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.
The “RiverRun Retro” screening of Bombshell: The Life of Hedy Lamarr takes place 7 pm Saturday at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $12. For advance tickets, visit the website. For more information about this or other RiverRun events, call 336.724.1502 or visit the official RiverRun website.