BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY: the world’s most beautiful woman and her secrets

BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is the riveting biopic of a glamorous movie star who invented and patented the precursor to wireless technology; that’s amazing enough, but Bombshell delves deeply into how Lamarr’s stunning face, her Jewish heritage, and mid-century gender roles shaped her career, marriages and parenting. Top notch.

In the last few years, one totally unexpected aspect of Lamarr’s life has become more well-known.  She was a tinkerer/inventor who co-invented a radio guidance system for submarine torpedos, which she donated to the US military.  The US Navy used this technology in WW II.   Modern blue tooth technology stems directly from her innovation.  Today her patent would be worth billions.

Bombshell adds layer upon layer to this tale of beauty and brains, as it traces Lamarr’s remarkable life.   Hedy Lamarr had no control over being born a woman, being born to Jewish parents and being born to be a beauty.  These three accidents of birth set the parameters of her journey – granting her access to some professional opportunities and stunting others, even threatening her life.

She burst into celebrity – and notoriety – at age 19, as the star of the film Ecstasy.   Not only was Hedy the first actress filmed in full frontal nudity, she was the first screen actress to portray female orgasms.  She was soon the young trophy wife of an Austrian industrialist, a formidable and fearsome supplier of munitions to Hitler.  Hedy’s life seemed headed along the Bimbo Track, but she realized that her husband was powerful enough to keep her trapped in the marriage, but not powerful enough to protect her from the Nazis.  At this point, she orchestrated an international escape that is the stuff of thrillers.

At age 24, often nominated as the most beautiful woman in the world, she launched a Hollywood career.  Professional ups and downs, marriages and affairs and children followed, along with her work in technology.

Her beauty was often a blessing and sometimes a curse, but always affected her trajectory.  Someone that beautiful is just different – the rest of us can’t help our reactions to her. But how many times can you be a trophy wife?

She was a person who survived troubling times, which left scars on her.  How Hedy handled her Jewishness, how she raised her kids and how she was treated by the military are unsettling.  Documentarian Alexandra Dean, Bombshell’s writer-director brings us witnesses, including Hedy’s children, to deliver an inside peek at a real life that would not be believable as a work of fiction.

I saw Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story this summer at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF).  It’s coming to theaters this week.

SUBTE-POLSKA: memory, vitality and loves from the past

SUBTE POLSKA

Here’s a wonderful movie (with an off-putting title) that you can ONLY see Sunday in Palo Alto or Wednesday in San Francisco. Subte-Polska is an Argentine gem about a nonagenarian chess master addressing his own memory, vitality and the need to find closure with his past. A promising first feature for writer-director Alejandro Magnone, Subte-Polska is the sleeper Must See at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Tadeusz (Hector Bidonde) is a working class nonagenarian chess master. He’s still able to win several simultaneous chess matches, but his age is catching up to him and he has periods of confusion and memory loss. His doc has prescribed meds that counteract the memory loss, but he refuses to take them because they…wait for it…diminish his sexual performance.

His adult adopted son (Marcelo Xicarte) is understandably frustrated because he has to keep tracking down an unnecessarily (from his perspective) addled old man. And the son is in a touchy period in his own marriage.

Tadeusz is a Communist Jew who left Poland, his family and his girlfriend to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He found another lover in Spain, but he left her,too, when they were defeated by Franco. Tadeusz’ family didn’t survive Hitler. That’s a lot of loss, and Tadeusz dealt with it by emigrating to Argentina and LITERALLY going underground. To avoid triggering painful memories, he gets a job constructing and then working in the Buenos Aires subway system. He sets up his son as a subway driver, and his best buddies also work in the subway, including the guy who runs the underground newsstand (Manuel Callau).

As Subte-Polska unfolds, Magnone explores our sense of memory, and how we consciously and subconsciously handle both the cherished memories and the devastating ones. As he takes and abstains from taking his meds, Tadeusz’s short-term memory ebbs and flows. This is a guy who has framed his entire life to suppress the memories of his youth, but he begins to remember his youth more and more vividly. As he remembers, he feels a need to find closure.

Tadeusz is a strong-willed person, and Subte-Polska is pretty funny as he causes consternation in his son, doctor and friends – in everybody except his well-serviced girlfriend and his ball-busting old friend from their first days underground. Marcelo Xicarte and Manuel Callau both prove to be excellent comic actors.

Speaking of acting, Hector Bidonde delivers a magnificent lead performance. Bidonde plays someone who has always been determined to do what he wants, stubborn to his core, still confident in his beliefs, mental acuity and sexual prowess, but occasionally shaken by moments of confusion.

You have three chances to catch Subte-Polska at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 4:25 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Wednesday, July 26 4:05 PM
  • Albany Twin (Twin), Tuesday, August 1 6:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Subte-Polska is funny, insightful and moving. I’m still mulling it over. This film deserves a US distributor – and a US distributor who changes the title. After all, it’s a subtitled movie about a 90-year-old; ya gotta help the audience want to see this. It’s the under-the-radar Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: top picks

sfjff

the 37th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF37), opens this Thursday. The SFJFF is the world’s oldest Jewish film festival, and, with a 2016 attendance figure of 40,000, still the largest. It’s one of the Bay Area’s top cinema events and here are my top picks:

  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, the riveting biopic of a glamorous movie star who invented and patented the precursor to wireless technology; that’s amazing enough, but Bombshell delves deeply into how Lamarr’s stunning face, her Jewish heritage, and mid-century gender roles shaped her career, marriages and parenting. Top notch. Bombshell plays Wednesday July 26 in Palo Alto, Sunday July 30 in San Francisco and Saturday August 5 in Albany.
  • A Classy Broad:  This delightful bio-doc chronicles the amazingly resilient life of Marcia Nasatir, the first woman production vice-president at a major Hollywood studio.  We all owe a debt to Nasatir for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Carrie and Apocalypse Now.
  • Subte Polska:  An Argentine gem about a nonagenarian chess master addressing his own memory, vitality and the need to find closure with his past. A promising first feature for writer-director Alejandro Magnone, Subte Polska is the sleeper Must See at this year’s SFJFF.
  • Levinsky Park: Israel was created as a home for refugees.  What happens when African refugees overwhelm a neglected Tel Aviv neighborhood is the subject of this topical documentary.
  • Fritz Lang:  What better protagonist for a crime drama than the creator of the masterpiece M and pioneering master of film noir, the director Fritz Lang?  Fritz Lang imagines Fritz Lang gathering research for M by tracking and interviewing a real serial killer, all while under police suspicion for his own past.
  • Ben-Gurion, Epilogue:  Footage from a recently discovered video interview allows us to hear from Israel’s founding leader in his own words.
  • A pre-release screening of the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power with an appearance by former Vice-President Al Gore. It plays the SFJFF on Monday evening, July 24 at the Castro in San Francisco, but the the screening is currently at rush.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Here’s the trailer for Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.

BEN-GURION, EPILOGUE: in his own words, Israel’s founding leader reflects

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue

In Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, footage from a recently discovered video interview allows us to hear from Israel’s founding leader in his own words. In 1968, David Ben-Gurion was 82 years old and had been retired from public office for five years. Living on a remote kibbutz in the Negev Desert, he still had a lot to say.

Ben-Gurion was interviewed for seven hours over several days, but the video was lost until recently. First the images were found, which triggered a search for the sound. The result is Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, with the seven hours distilled down to one hour. Director Yariv Moser gets out of the way and lets Ben-Gurion speak for himself. The result is an important document of 20th Century history.

Not a guy who naturally “holds forth”, Ben-Gurion is prodded into revealing his inside view of his controversial acceptance of German reparations.  We also get his take on the Zionist movement (not exactly what you’d expect) and, of course the Big Question: land for peace.  There are also telling insights into his marriage.

You can find a separate 24-minute “making of” documentary on YouTube.

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue will screen at the SFJFF:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 Noon
  • Castro (San Francisco), Saturday, July 29 1:45 PM
  • Albany Twin (Albany), Sunday, July 30 Noon.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

LEVINSKY PARK: refuge for refugees?

LEVINSKY PARK

Israel was created as a home for refugees.  What happens when African refugees overwhelm a neglected Tel Aviv neighborhood is the subject of the topical documentary Levinsky Park.

Director Beth Toni Kruvant takes us to Tel Aviv’s hardscrabble Hatikva neighborhood,  now burdened with an influx of African refugees from sub-Saharan Africa.  The refugees aren’t Jewish, they don’t speak Hebrew and they sure aren’t white.  Discouraged from working legally, the refugees encamp on the streets and do what they need to survive.  The Israeli government senses a lose-lose media profile on the issue and tries to duck it entirely.

So how do the local Israelis react?  There is a wide spectrum. Some welcome and try to help people fleeing for their lives.  Others tag the newcomers with the loaded pejorative “infiltrators” and try to kick them out.  We see some ugly, overt racism in Levinsky Park, but nothing unlike what we’ve seen in the US in the Trump Era.

It’s the same question that confronts all countries in the West about political asylum-seekers – who will actually invite them in?  What’s different about Levinsky Park, of course, is that this is Israel – the one nation  created by and for refugees.

A leader emerges from the refugees, the charismatic and articulate Mutasim Ali.  He frames their plight as a movement, and they strive to regain some control over their own futures.  Levinsky Park is a compelling real-life story and screens at the SFJFF:

  • Castro (San Francisco), Thursday, July 27 11:15 AM
    Albany Twin (Albany), Friday, August 4 4:05 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

A CLASSY BROAD: “Done. Next!”

Marcia Nasatir in A CLASSY BROAD

The delightful bio-doc A Classy Broad chronicles the amazingly resilient life of Marcia Nasatir, the first woman production vice-president at a major Hollywood studio.   Nasatir is now 91 years old and still pitching movies.

Nasatir has lived a singular life.  I won’t spoil her hometown, but it’s not a place that is known for producing Jewish Hollywood execs.  As a young single mom in New York, she started at the bottom of the publishing trade, and climbed to a position selling the movie rights of literary properties.  She moved to representing authors as an agent, which resulted in the motion pictures Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Chinatown.  

Nasatir burst through the glass ceiling as a studio exec at UA, where she greenlit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Carrie and Apocalypse Now!  Dumped by the other suits, she became an independent producer and brought The Big Chill to the screen after it had been rejected by seventeen other companies.

Nasatir’s legacy is a huge chunk of Hollywood’s auteur era of the late 1960s through the early 1980s.  The “classy” in the movie title references an episode where she got fired when the moguls thought her movie taste was too elevated to make money for the studio.

Nasatir demonstrated enormous confidence for a woman of her era, and is the very paragon of resilience.  She met every challenge with her two-word slogan (and epitaph-to-be): “Done. Next!”

A Classy Broad screens three times at the SFJFF:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Saturday, July 22 3:50 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Sunday, July 23 1:35 PM
  • Albany Twin (Albany), Sunday, August 6 12:15 PM

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

FRITZ LANG: a filmmaker face to face with a real monster

Heino Ferch as FRITZ LANG

If you’re making a dark crime movie, what better protagonist than Fritz Lang, the creator of the masterpiece M and a founding auteur of film noirFritz Lang imagines Fritz Lang (Heino Ferch) gathering research for M by tracking and interviewing a real serial killer, all while under police suspicion for his own past.

Writer-director Gordian Maugg sets Fritz Lang at after he has triumphed with the sci-fi epic Metropolis.  Most directors are worried about transitioning from silent movies to talkies, but Lang is consumed pivoting from the grand epic to the personal – he aims to focus each film on the inner struggles of one individual.  He begins work on his next film (what will become M) and hides from his agent, producer and even from second wife and co-writer Thea von Harbou.

Lang travels to research a real serial killer.  We see him visualizing scenes for M (and actual snippets from M are inserted in Fritz Lang).  He is confronted by the detective chasing the serial killer, who still suspects Lang of murdering Lang’s first wife.

Indeed, in real life, police were summoned to find Lang’s first wife dead of a gunshot wound to her chest. Lang and von Harbou explained that the wife had discovered them in frangrante delicto, rushed to get Lang’s pistol and killed herself. Because there was no forensic evidence to contradict the two eyewitnesses, no one was charged. But who commits suicide by shooting herself IN THE CHEST?

Also in real life, von Harbou warmed to the Nazis.   Lang saw that the Nazis would eventually learn of his Jewish mother, and a troubling meeting with Joseph Goebbels caused Lang to leave von Harbou in Germany.  The real Fritz Lang went on to become one of the pioneering masters of American film noir, creating a classic body of work: Scarlet Street, House by the River, The Blue Gardenia, The Big Heat, Human Desire, While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The fictional narrative Fritz Lang explores Lang’s creative process, particularly in the creation of M, still one of the most unsettling examples of cinema.   Heino Ferch (Albert Speer in Downfall, the crime boss Ronnie in Run Lola Run) is very good as an imperious but tortures Lang.

Fritz Lang will play the SFJFF at:

  • Castro (San Francisco), Thursday, July 27 9:30 PM
    Albany Twin (Albany), Thursday, August 3 8:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

SUBTE-POLSKA: memory, vitality and loves from the past

SUBTE POLSKA

Subte-Polska is an Argentine gem about a nonagenarian chess master addressing his own memory, vitality and the need to find closure with his past.  A promising first feature for writer-director Alejandro Magnone, Subte Polska is the sleeper Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

Great movie. Off-putting title.

Tadeusz (Hector Bidonde) is a working class nonagenarian chess master. He’s still able to win several simultaneous chess matches, but his age is catching up to him and he has periods of confusion and memory loss. His doc has prescribed meds that counteract the memory loss, but he refuses to take them because they…wait for it…diminish his sexual performance.

His adult adopted son (Marcelo Xicarte) is understandably frustrated because he has to keep tracking down an unnecessarily (from his perspective) addled old man. And the son is in a touchy period in his own marriage.

Tadeusz is a Communist Jew who left Poland, his family and his girlfriend to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He found another lover in Spain, but he left her,too, when they were defeated by Franco. Tadeusz’ family didn’t survive Hitler. That’s a lot of loss, and Tadeusz dealt with it by emigrating to Argentina and LITERALLY going underground. To avoid triggering painful memories, he gets a job constructing and then working in the Buenos Aires subway system. He sets up his son as a subway driver, and his best buddies also work in the subway, including the guy who runs the underground newsstand (Manuel Callau).

As Subte-Polska unfolds, Magnone explores our sense of memory, and how we consciously and subconsciously handle both the cherished memories and the devastating ones.  As he takes and abstains from taking his meds, Tadeusz’s short-term memory ebbs and flows.  This is a guy who has framed his entire life to suppress the memories of his youth, but he begins to remember his youth more and more vividly.  As he remembers, he feels a need to find closure.

Tadeusz is a strong-willed person, and Subte-Polska is pretty funny as he causes consternation in his son, doctor and friends – in everybody except his well-serviced girlfriend and his ball-busting old friend from their first days underground.  Marcelo Xicarte and Manuel Callau both prove to be excellent comic actors.

Speaking of acting, Hector Bidonde delivers a magnificent lead performance.  Bidonde plays someone who has always been determined to do what he wants, stubborn to his core, still confident in his beliefs, mental acuity and sexual prowess, but occasionally shaken by moments of confusion.

You have three chances to catch Subte-Polska at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 4:25 PM
  • Castro (San Francisco), Wednesday, July 26 4:05 PM
  • Albany Twin (Twin), Tuesday, August 1 6:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Subte-Polska is funny, insightful and moving. I’m still mulling it over.  This film deserves a US distributor – and a US distributor who changes the title. After all, it’s a subtitled movie about a 90-year-old; ya gotta help the audience want to see this.  It’s the under-the-radar Must See at this year’s SFJFF.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: Al Gore in person, plus Hedy Lamarr!

sfjff

It’s time to get ready for one of the Bay Area’s top cinema events: the 37th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF37), which opens July 20, and runs through August 6 at five locations throughout the Bay Area. The SFJFF is the world’s oldest Jewish film festival, and, with a 2016 attendance figure of 40,000, still the largest.

Al Gore in AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER

Here’s an early peek at the fest highlights:

  • A pre-release screening of the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power with an appearance by former Vice-President Al Gore (the screening is currently at rush).
  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, the riveting biopic of a glamorous movie star who invented and patented the precursor to wireless technology; that’s amazing enough, but Bombshell delves deeply into how Lamarr’s stunning face, her Jewish heritage, and mid-century gender roles shaped her career, marriages and parenting. Top notch.
  • The especially strong slate of documentaries, always a rich trademark of the SFJFF.
  • Scores of feature films from around the world (I’ll be recommending movies from the US, Israel, Germany and Argentina).
  • And the always popular program of short films, Jews in Shorts.

One of the most appealing features of the SFJFF is that, wherever you live in the Bay Area, the fest comes to you. SFJFF will present film events at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, the Landmark Albany Twin in Albany, the CinéArts Theatre in Palo Alto, the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, and the New Parkway Theater in Oakland.

You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.  This weekend I’ll be posting my top picks for the fest.

BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

2016 at the Movies: most fun at the movies

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP
Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in MAN UP

The most fun on this blog this year was the reader reaction to my recommendation of Man Up: I’ve never had so many people thank me for recommending a movie!  This British romantic comedy had a very brief US theatrical run last November that did not even reach the Bay Area.  Man Up is available to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Flixster.

This year I covered FIVE film festivals:

  • Cinequest:  My favorites were premieres of the debut films Lost Solace and Heaven’s Floor.
  • San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF):  My favorites were Chevalier, Weiner and Frank & Lola, and I especially enjoyed taking the wife to a screening of Our Kind of Traitor with director Susanna White.
  • International Film Festival of North Hollywood (IFFNOHO): especially Gazelle: The Love Issue.
  • San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF):  My favorite film was the upcoming television miniseries False Flag, but I most enjoyed accompanying The Wife to a screening of Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg with Robert Klein.
  • Mill Valley Film Festival:  Was lucky enough to see Toni Erdmann.
Andrew Jenkins in Chris Scheuerman's brilliant debut LOST SOLACE
Andrew Jenkins in Chris Scheuerman’s brilliant debut LOST SOLACE

I’m in my fourteenth year of the Camera Cinema Club, and this year’s highlight was Take Me to the River by San Jose filmmaker Matt Sobel – it made my year-end top ten!

And, of course, I always love Noir City, and the best night this year featured The Bitter Stems and Girl with Hyacinths.

Every year I watch a zillion movies on Turner Classic Movies, and this year I discovered a Buster Keaton masterpiece that I hadn’t seen: TCM Seven Chances.

Finally. I got the chance to take The Wife and our adult kids to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen at the Stanford Theatre’s Christmas Eve screening.  Hard to top that.

I go to the movies to be thrilled, provoked and exhilarated, and I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring.

Buster Keaton in SEVEN CHANCES
Buster Keaton in SEVEN CHANCES