Susan Sarandon has some advice for her generation. During a panel discussion at the Tribeca Film Festival following a screening of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, a film she executive produced, Sarandon told the audience that the millennials are on fire and that baby boomers are the problem. “It’s my generation that’s messing the world up,” the 70-year-young actress explained. “The millennials are onto the answer. We have to get with them, and listen to them and help them, and support them, and fundraise for them.” Sarandon’s remarks came at the tail end of answering a question about sexism and ageism in Hollywood, a topic she’s helped shine a spotlight on of late. Sarandon played Bette Davis in the brilliant FX series FEUD: Bette and Joan, which presented Davis and Crawford as aging Hollywood castaways. Now, she’s taken a behind-the-scenes role by helping tell Hedy Lamarr’s tragic story.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, directed by Alex Dean, extols Lamarr not only for her beauty and film accomplishments, but also for her inventions. Using audio from an interview Lamarr did in 1990 combined with commentary by friends and family, the film is able to retrace the life of a very complicated figure. A Jewish immigrant from Nazi-occupied Austria, Lamarr came to America by boat in 1938. She would meet Howard Hughes and help him come up with the shape of his airplanes. She also dreamed up soda cubes, which when dropped in water would make soda. And, working in conjunction with George Antheil, she developed and patented a radio frequency-hopping system which eventually paved the way for Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth.
As for Lamarr’s film career, Bombshell paints her as a pioneer. She delivered the first on screen orgasm for the 1933 film Ecstasy. When she ran into problems working within the Hollywood system, Lamarr produced her own films, which women weren’t exactly doing at that time. Sadly, the industry started phasing Lamarr out after she turned 40, and as a result, she became obsessed with plastic surgery. Ultimately, she grew to be total recluse and, in her lifetime, never received the recognition she deserved with regard to her inventions.
While Lamarr’s story is tragic, the documentary does send a message of hope and perseverance. Towards the end of the film, Lamarr is heard reciting “Anyway: the Ten Paradoxical Commandments”. She had read this poem over the phone to her son and it really resounded with her. It talks about focusing on the process rather than the end result.
During the discussion that ensued following the screening, Sarandon remarked that Lamarr made the mistake of trying to preserve herself. She compared Lamarr to Joan Crawford, both women were revered for their beauty and had difficulty coping with ageism in Hollywood. However, all the panelists agreed that when it comes to women in Hollywood today, things are much better than in the days of Lamarr, Crawford and Davis.
Sarandon also shared her secret to staying young, which is to remain engaged. “Keep asking questions, and seek out people of all ages,” she explained. “This idea of all old people living together freaks me out.”
In addition to FEUD, which concluded last night, Sarandon can be heard as the voice of Lunch Lady Lorraine in Dash Shaw’s glorious animated feature My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea. It’s playing now at the Metrograph.
As for Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, the film has a few more screenings this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. It will later have its U.S. broadcast premiere on the American Masters series on PBS. You can check out a clip of the film below.