Howie's Picks For The 22nd Annual Denver Jewish Film Festival
Actress Hedy Lamarr was drop dead beautiful. Her best films are probably Algiers and Boom Town. She’s sultry in campy pictures like White Cargo and Samson and Delilah, and she could put on a come hitcher look like nobody – the kind of look that makes heterosexual men drool and stumble. She was a tremendous star in some ways -- famous or infamous for decades, but she only made 35 pictures in her career, which is not many for a star of the studio era, although she did have many husbands and a raucous life.
Lamarr found her first notoriety when she was only 18. She was born in Vienna to a prosperous Jewish family, and she got herself into a film called Ecstasy by Czech filmmaker Gustav Machatý. She was still Hedy Kiesler then, and she spends a decent amount of screen time swimming and running through the woods naked, topped by a scene in which she feigns an orgasm. All this in 1933.
The new documentary Bombshell, the Hedy Lamarr Story by Alexandra Dean gives a good account of Lamarr’s life, and, just as you’d expect it tries to resurrect Lamarr’s reputation. The film makes a good case. Lamarr deserves better than being reduced to a wild sexpot. With a decent role, she was a good actor. And she was also a brilliant person with an original mind. With little training in science and none in engineering, early in World War II, Lamarr got an idea about how to guide torpedoes electronically, which was a big problem for the allies at the time.
She called her system “frequency hopping,” and, bizarrely, the person who helped her formulate the system and get a patent was a musician, the Avant Garde composer George Antheil. The wartime inventors board thought the idea was solid, but the navy was dismissive. The patent ran out; she never got any credit, or money. But then her idea was rediscovered, and “frequency hopping” is a key element of the cellphone you’re using at this very moment.
Bombshell tells a great story. The filmmaking is standard – a typical blend of film clips, interviews, with some inexplicable animations. But no matter. It’s still a good watch.
Atom Egoyan is a good Canadian director, who was born in Egypt. He makes quirky films of complicated mood and difficult direction, like The Sweet Hereafter or The Adjuster. His movies are not always well distributed in the United States. His film in the Jewish festival, Remember, came out in 2015. Some have written that Remember is less good than other Egoyan films and that it’s implausible. I disagree.
Remember is an odd film, with a sudden reversal near the end, although it’s not entirely unexpected. Zev (Christopher Plummer) is an elderly man with some degree of dementia. He’s just lost his wife, and his friend Max (the late Martin Landau) wants Zev to take a trip for him. They’re neighbors in an assisted living home, and Max can’t travel. Apparently, both lost their families at Auschwitz, and the trip Max devises for his less impaired friend will take him in search of the man who murdered them.
Plausibility is a funny issue. It’s easy to get hung up on it, but Alfred Hitchcock says plausibility is matter for small minds. Hitchcock is also the maker of Vertigo, often considered the greatest film in the world – even though it fundamentally makes no sense.
Following the written instructions from Max, Zev buys a handgun – a Glock – and sets off by plane, train and bus in search of the old Nazi murderer. The image of a memory-impaired man on a mission to avenge an event from roughly 70 years ago presents a tricky and fascinating problem. Zev’s memory impairment may stem from a disease, but the world at large is also forgetting, and you can see in Zev the drive to recall what is fading away. And a lot more than you might think.