Who is Hedy Lamarr, and why should we care about her? A Hollywood star in the 1940s, Lamarr was better known for her dazzling beauty than her middling thespianship. You may be too young to remember her; but imagine Scarlett Johansson developing a cutting-edge cancer treatment, or Olivia Munn discovering a new planet in the solar system, and you’ll realize why a Golden Age movie actress is the subject of a Digital Age film.
This is because, when she wasn’t turning heads on the screen, Lamarr was helping to develop technological concepts that became the basis of cellphone and Bluetooth technology. Lamarr died in obscurity in 2000, her true story untold; but documentarian Alexandra Dean has brought it to the forefront with Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.
In the ‘40s – as something of a hobby away from making motion pictures with titles such as The Strange Woman, Ecstasy (a Euro film in which she scandalously romped in the nude), Ziegfeld Girl and Samson and Delilah (she was the latter) – Lamarr collaborated on the invention of “frequency hopping,” a wireless form of communication that revolutionized mobile communications globally. Almost no one knew this at the time, because government officials pretty much ignored the invention initially, and even Lamarr’s own autobiography didn’t bother to mention what has come to light in subsequent research.
Mel Brooks, who was sued by Lamarr for naming a villainous character “Hedley Lamarr” in his comedy Blazing Saddles, and the late Turner Classic Movies host, Robert Osborne, a close friend of Lamarr’s, are among those interviewed in Dean’s fascinating film – which Flintites can see February 15-18 at the Flint Institute of Arts.
One interview subject calls Lamarr’s saga “the perfect underdog crimefighter-by-night story” – a metaphorically astute take.
Kicking off this month in the Friends of Modern Art series at the FIA is a weekend (February 1-4) filled with showings of the most-recently-nominated Academy Award shorts – documentaries, animated films and live action. Consider it a run-up to the Oscar ceremony on March 4. Consult flintarts.org for the screening schedule.
The February 9-11 selection is Woodpeckers, a drama from the Dominican Republic set in a prison where male and female inmates use a unique system of sign language to communicate with each other.
Three American films round out the movie month at the museum. For Ahkeem (February 16-18) is about a teenage girl who becomes determined to make a better life for herself in a tough St. Louis neighborhood. The Work (February 23-25) concerns an unusual group-therapy retreat regarding the challenges of rehabilitation inside a house of incarceration.
Also on the schedule, outside of the FOMA series, is Step, an inspiring documentary being presented February 8 by the Flint non-profit Communities First in collaboration with the FIA. The film follows the senior year of a high school girls step dance team against the backdrop of inner-city Baltimore.
As always, information on all screenings at the FIA is available by visiting flintarts.org or by calling 810.234.1695.