Hedy Lamarr's face still astonishes with its almost unnatural perfection, and, while everyone in Georg Misch's docu "Calling Hedy Lamarr" seems duty bound to mention her legendary beauty, there's little insight into what lay behind that flawless mask. This demi-portrait will get nibbles from cable stations, but auds will be disappointed.

Hedy Lamarr’s face still astonishes with its almost unnatural perfection, and, while everyone in Georg Misch’s docu “Calling Hedy Lamarr” seems duty bound to mention her legendary beauty, there’s little insight into what lay behind that flawless mask. Instead, there’s the sad sight of son Anthony Loder, desperately wanting to share his mother’s spotlight and unsuccessfully trying to understand who she was. This affectionate but unperceptive demi-portrait will get nibbles from cable stations, but auds hoping for a fact-filled A&E Bio will be disappointed.

Lamarr enjoyed shrouding herself in mystery, but neither Loder nor Misch bother to dissect truth from fiction. Instead, Misch gathers a motley group who knew Lamarr to varying degrees. Helmer films them speaking to one another on the phone, making contradictory remarks as if to prove that few really understood the woman behind the star.

Unfortunately, too many set-ups seem to channel drag performer Lypsinka’s riotously funny spoof on classic telephone scenes, and the comments made, including the far-fetched theories of journalist Hans Janitschek, do little to further an understanding of how the woman who personified glamour could go from mansions in Hollywood to a small tract house in Florida.

Loder, now a telephone salesman, is left trying to figure out how his own life turned from glam to banal, and why his mother wasn’t especially good at being maternal. Sister Denise astutely comments that this docu is Tony’s therapy, but that’s precisely the problem: Auds may feel hoodwinked when they realize they are finding out more about Tony’s psychological profile than Hedy’s.

Docu fails to mention the star’s wildly successful War Bonds tours or her work at the Hollywood Canteen, but does touch on one of the great surprises to come out of Hollywood in the past decade –the revelation that Lamarr patented a secret frequency-hopping communication system. Her invention was classified by the Pentagon and still forms the basis for everything from Smart bomb technology to cell phone transmissions. Misch covers this with military officers backing up claims about Lamarr’s genius.

It seems trite to say that Lamarr was haunted by her beauty, but there’s no doubt its loss was a burden too great for her to bare publicly. Those who recall her fight with a tabloid to repress close up shots just before her umpteenth face-lift will cringe to see a 1996 home movie, her skin all unnatural angles and surgery smooth. She seems spry and warm, but including such footage seems petty.

The Lamarr mystique was specific to a time and place, but neither helmer Misch nor son Loder manage here to place her in that special time or to explain how Lamarr came to inhabit her unique place in Hollywood history.

Film clips are high quality and well chosen, especially a charming “What’s My Line” grab, but nothing’s identified and the images only hint at how her passive incandescence filled the screen.

Calling Hedy Lamarr

Germany-Austria-U.K.

Production

A Hanfgarn & Ufer Filmproduktion (Germany)/Mischief Films (Austria)/Lone Star Prods. (U.K.) production, with the support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmfonds Wien, Osterreichisches Filminstitut, in cooperation with WDR/ARTE, BBC2, AVRO. Produced by Gunter Hanfgarn, Ralph Wieser, Martin Rosenbaum, Georg Misch, Anthony Loder. Directed, written by Georg Misch.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, HD-to-35mm), Jon Sayers; editor, Michael Palm; music, Jim Howard; sound, Peter Utvary, Elisabeth Reeh, Misch. Reviewed on DVD, Rome, Aug. 17, 2004. (In Locarno Film Festival -- Critics' Week.) Running time: 69 MIN.

With

Anthony Loder, Denise Loder-DeLuca, Charles, Edie and Caitlin Stansel, Hans Janitschek, Peter Shen, Roy Dunnegan, Arlene Roxbury, Marianna Newton, David Hughes, Marc Levin, Peter Gardener, Arianne Ulmer-Cipes. (English, German dialogue)
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