Alexandra Dean’s debut documentary is a revelatory and entertaining portrait of an adventurous woman and talented inventor better known to the world as the embodiment of Hollywood sex and glamour.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2018
In the heyday of the Hollywood studios the popular joke about Hedy Lamarr was that she was so gorgeous that she need not concern herself with acting. Though the young Austrian émigré successfully parlayed her looks into Hollywood star power, she came to see her beauty as a ‘curse’, something that blinded onlookers to a far more vital attribute: a brilliant mind for mechanics. Who knew that she had invented a ‘frequency hopping’ system to conceal allied torpedoes from Nazi locater systems? (The science anticipated the technology that underlies WiFi and Bluetooth.)
Her international career began in scandal: she performed naked and was directed in such a way as to appear to be experiencing an orgasm in the Czech film Ecstasy. She was 19. In her later years her plastic surgery provided further fodder for tabloid gossip. Alexandra Dean’s timely documentary draws extensively on a previously unpublished audio interview from 1990 to highlight Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler’s multiple lives and unsung accomplishments. This fully rounded portrait challenges the reductive notions about beauty vs. brains that she, like so many other shimmering screen sirens, have been forced to endure. — SR
“Lamarr’s story is one of a brilliant woman who was consistently underestimated. It also gives us the clearest possible illustration of why on-screen representation matters – of all the parts that Lamarr was given to play, none of them was as fantastic, or inspirational, as her real life… If she had ever played a woman as brilliant as herself in a film, perhaps the revelation that a star had brains as well as beauty wouldn’t be quite such a, well, bombshell.” — Pamela Hutchinson, The Guardian