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    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Sunday, October 28, 2018

    Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

    I wanted to jot a few notes down on Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017) while they were still fresh in my mind as I think I may want to reference them at some point. Obviously Hedy has long been someone I've been interested in due to her role as Delilah in DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), so I've known for quite a while about her role in the invention of channel hopping - the pivotal technology behind secure communications technology such as wi-fi, bluetooth and a host of military technology.

    Lamarr's invention came about during the early 1940s. Born in Austria to a Jewish family the documentary tells us that her father died from a heart attack due to the stress of the way Hitler was treating Jewish people. Lamarr herself was married to a munitions magnate at this point and whilst Hitler was apparently never a guest at her and her husband's Austrian mansion - supposedly due to Lamarr's race - they did host Mussolini. However, the marriage was loveless and Lamarr, sensing the change in the air hatched a plot where she hired a look-a-like maid, sewed her best jewels into her overcoat and one evening disappeared into the night in order to flee to London. This almost sounds like a movie plot in and of itself.

    At that point in time Louis B. Meyer was securing potential actor talent and just so happened to be in London. Lamarr already had acting experience - having already gained notoriety for her performed in Ekstase (1933) which featured both nude scenes and an implied orgasm scene. Lamarr turned down his initial offer, but quickly booked herself on the same boat to New York as Meyer and made sure she caught his eye. He signed her up for £500 per week.

    However, despite having signed her up he then refused to give her any decent parts, supposedly because he still judged her for her role in Ekstase despite he protestations that he had been duped. Eventually though she begged her way into a relatively small role in Boom Town (1940) and her career suddenly took off. Not only was she working crazily hard as an actress she was causing a revolution over partings which saw a number of other prominent movie stars adopting a Hedy-style centre parting.

    At this stage America had still not joined the Second World War, but Hedy's mum was desperately trying to escape from the growing Holocaust back in Austria. A combination of her mother's plight, and the sinking of ship carrying numerous allied children, made her decide to do something about it. Her father had already encouraged her mental skills development, by explaining to her how various devices worked. Lamarr had her greatest success after she met composer George Antheil and the two of them formed a strong, and indeed productive, friendship. Around this time she was also friendly with Howard Hughes and claimed to have helped with his inventions too.

    The documentary suggests that Lamarr and Antheil's breakthrough with channel hopping (wifi had two sources of inspiration. The first was the invention (by someone else) of a new remote control that enabled people to skip from one channel to another. The other was the player piano which played music by recognising the holes in a piece of paper. Lamar realised that if both the emitter and the receiver of the radio signal had a pre-determined pattern of when to switch channel then they could use radio signals to remote control the missile right up to the point of contact. Whilst the invention was patented and adopted by the Inventor's Council, the navy rejected the technology and it sat unloved in a drawer for several years. Instead Hedy was recruited to entertain the troops and to sell Bonds. There was a strong sense in the documentary that Lamarr wanted to be judged based on her ability and intellect, but she found that people (men mainly) could not get past people judging her solely for her good looks.

    Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the documentary was the way it largely skipped over his success with DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), The film was the second highest grossing film of the entire 1940s, only losing out to Gone With the Wind (1939). Today it's the film that Lamarr is best remembered for. Perhaps her children and other relatives, whose contributions make a significant to the documentary in question, did not recall anything about it. Nevertheless it seems a little odd that it was largely overlooked.

    The success of Samson and Delilah enabled Lamarr to produce her own independent film. This was certainly not something her studio was happy with, and the box-office failure of the epic film she made gave her significant financial problems. She married again (it's implied it was for the money) and moved to Texas and then to Colorado where she also designed a ski resort. (Aspen) in line with those she knew from Austria. Her final claim to innovation came in the field of plastic surgery. She first had surgery in her 40s and made numerous suggestions to her surgeons, some of which had not been done in quite the same way before, yet went on to become popular. Sadly later facial surgeries left her (relatively) disfigured and she became something of a recluse. Fortunately she did give an interview late in life with reporter Fleming Meeks, who did nothing with the tapes for a long time. Both the tapes and Meeks' comments comprise a significant chunk of the film which ends by talking about how she began to get a small amount of recognition for her frequency hopping invention in the 1990s - the decade leading leading to her death in 2000. The film more or less ends with Lamaar reading out the words of Kent M. Keith's Paradoxical Commandments.

    Overall the documentary was pretty good, with plenty for those who have only a brief understanding of Lamarr's even if it's a shame it doesn't given more time to Samson and Delilah.

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