By 1940, the outlook of WWII was bleaker than ever as German U-boats decimated military and civilian ships at sea. The allies struggled to adapt at home and abroad, but an unlikely inventor set about solving the problem from Hollywood: actress Hedy Lamarr. Alongside avant-garde composer George Antheil, Lamarr devised a method for wirelessly controlling torpedoes via radio wave called frequency hopping, which would have allowed then unheard-of control over the explosives by communicating between rapidly alternating radio frequencies, thereby circumventing enemy attempts to jam transmissions. It was a low-key brilliant deduction that was unfortunately never used by the US Navy, but it does have myriad practical applications today (do you like wi-fi, GPS and shuttle launches?) and raises a rather interesting point: Lamarr was a straight genius who was often underestimated because of her staggering beauty.
We learn this and much more in documentarian Alexandra Dean's new film, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, ultimately gaining an understanding of the downsides of stardom and the not-so-glamorous private life of Lamarr, who was once considered the most beautiful woman alive. From her beginnings starring in underground Austrian erotica to disastrous marriages with everyone from Nazi-sympathizing munitions manufacturers to philandering screenwriters, Lamarr's was not always a charmed life. But through a once-lost phone interview with a Forbes reporter from the '90s, we glean that Lamarr perhaps resented superficial stardom and family life, inventing in her free time and navigating a world that seemed more than prepared to use her at every turn.
Ultimately, Bombshell provides a message of hope—not least of which for a greater appreciation of Lamarr's intelligence—with interviews from historians, family members, friends and fans. Like the consummate "don't judge a book" lesson or fascinating underdog story, Bombshell sidesteps expectations almost always, shining a light on the seedy underbelly of Hollywood's star factory and never canonizing its subject; Lamarr was far from perfect, and we see some of her darkest days, but we gain new understanding for her contributions to humanity, many of which define our society to this day. That's the type of thing everyone ought to know.
+Fascinating and mind-altering
-Could have been a little longer
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Directed by Dean
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 90 min.