I went to the movies alone on Monday because I am a strong, independent woman, who don't need no man (and who also has no friends).
I was very excited to see Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story at the Limelight Cinema here in Bellingham. Anticipation was high; I had absolutely no idea who Hedy Lamarr was and the cryptic advertisements for this film left a lot to the imagination. At that point, all I knew was that she was very beautiful, misunderstood, and some sort of genius.
The lights dim, the film starts, I suddenly regret not-peeing but there's no way I can get up now and miss this.
It opens with a quote from Hedy that I didn't write down, but I remember it was very eloquent and deep. So, there ya go. From there, the film revealed a recently rediscovered interview with Hedy, and it attempted to have Hedy narrate her own story. What a beautiful way to give a voice to someone who had struggled for so long to tell her truth. The film followed a linear progression, starting with Lamarr's early days in Ecstasy and following the twists and turns of her life and career until her death in 2000. Though it is a feat to tackle such a complicated person and create a film that is so clear and straightforward, it may have been more true to the late star's personality to be a little less linear. But I digress, it was a wonderful documentary.
A theme of this film, or should I say of Hedy's life, was that this brilliantly intelligent person was only valued based on appearance. One of her children commented on this, saying that it seemed as though Hedy even expected this treatment from her own kids. It makes sense, seeing as how nearly every man she married behaved that way, but that shit got me so in my emotions. I just wanted to tell her that it wasn't true, that she didn't have to perform in order to be loved. Tragic. 😭
As my tiny body sat crossed-legged in the theater, I felt a strange mix of empowerment and sadness. Hedy's life so brazenly laid out before me forced me to face the parallels between us. I subconsciously recounted every instance in which a man was visibly surprised that such an obviously ingenue had more to offer than aesthetics. My brain silently flipped through the oogles from strange men on the street, every instance my personality was discarded entirely in favor of objectifying my body. Each moment of false listening, seeing the laser beam eyes drill through me as the douchebag across the dinner table ignores every my word to focus on god knows what. I sat there and thought "I feel for you Hedy."
And then I found myself getting so fucking angry.
This woman was being treated like trash. She was abused by MGM (big surprise), fed drugs, ridiculed in the media, relentlessly celebrated and simultaneously degraded for her beauty. Almost no one saw what a smart person she was. But what was even more frustrating, is that she bought into the bullshit people constantly spewed. I don't mean to say that she denounced her own brilliance, but she tried so hard to give the people what they want. She buried her Jewish background, accepted demeaning and senseless roles, and worked hard as hell to stay beautiful. By the end of her life, Hedy had several plastic surgeries. And guess what America, WE STILL TREAT WOMEN ACTORS LIKE THEY HAVE FUCKING EXPIRATION DATES. It didn't help that when an image of old Hedy, after several surgeries, was shown on screen a man in the front audibly said "Jesus Christ". What kind of soggy piece of toast do you have to be to do that?
The film ends on Hedy's death. It is safe to say I was basically bawling. A good documentary gets out of its own way to tell the story, and I feel like I am no more writing a movie review than I am writing about Hedy's life. Personally, I would have enjoyed more inclusion of personal anecdotes from her kids and friends, but given the preexisting lack of information about Lamarr, I am in no way upset.
Hedy's life was a riveting feminist tale, and learning about her opens so many important conversations about women in film, science, and society. It is a must-see for those of us who claim the feminist title, especially men, and it is particularly potent for any young woman in possession of brains and beauty (which is a lot, just so fucking many women). Love or hate the film, Hedy Lamarr's impact on our world is undeniable.