Tag Archives: Movies

Historical Hotties: Hedy Lamarr

29 Jun

It’s been a while since my last installment in the “Historical Hotties” series, but while roaming across the internet yesterday, I can across my new favorite historical woman. I’m going to put aside my bias against the 20th century (it’s not history yet!). Seriously, this lady is awesome. Her name is Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler). Besides seriously considering naming my fictional first-born child Hedwig (boy, girl, doesn’t really matter- its a fictional child. How awesome is that name?), Ms. Lamarr is very cool is several respects. First, she was born in Austria-Hungary in 1913 (now-defunct country at a really critical time period- you’ll recall that thing they call the “Great War”; she was interesting even before she was born).

Of course, she is also world-renowned for her beauty (she is a Historical Hottie after all). She was a huge movie star in the Golden Age of Cinema, and was contracted (back in the day, a studio basically “owned” an actor via contract, actors couldn’t just run around making movies with any studio they wanted) with the biggest, baddest studio of them all, MGM (the roaring lion one). She was more than just any average pretty lady in a movie- she was a straight up sex symbol, right from the beginning of her career. At age 18, she starred in a movie called Ecstasy, in which she shockingly simulated lady-pleasure (this was in 1933 people!). Her husband was not pleased. (It didn’t help that the movie was about the stifled young wife of an evil older man- and her husband was more than a decade older than Ms. Lamarr.)

As you might know, things got rough for Jewish folks in central Europe right around the mid-1930s (Austria: the land of Hedy’s birthplace…also Hitler). The ingenious Ms. Lamarr disguised herself as her maid (very Padme Amidala) and fled the country in 1937. During the next year, Hedwig went from Paris to London, where she met studio executive Louis B. Mayer (the second “M” in MGM). Consequently, she moved to Hollywood and changed her name from Hedwig Kiesler to Hedy Lamarr.

In Hollywood, she became an even bigger star, usually playing super sexy roles. She made a ton of film between her arrival in the States in 1938 and the end of her cinema career in 1957. While balanced a very successful movie career and a pair of World Wars, she was married six times and had six children.

While that is all very well, what really makes her awesome in my book is the fact that, in addition to everything else going on in her life, she was also an influential computer scientist. I don’t know about you, but I can’t name very many famous female computer scientists (although, I admit, it isn’t my area of expertise- I can name a large number of influential medieval nuns). This famous computer scientist also happens to be a famous movie star (okay, I challenge you to think of a famous computer scientist/movie combo). She (and a neighbor named George Antheil) patented something called a frequency-hopping spread-spectrum communication system. I’m a little blurry on the technicals, but the technology she invented is the basis for everyday essentials like Bluetooth, CDMA (used by cell phones), and COFDM (used for wi-fi. Wi-fi, people- this is huge!)

The moral of this story is that Hedy Lamarr is undoubtedly a serious Historical Hottie (and general all-around total package).

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When the Mutally Unintelligible is Intelligible

6 Jun

Aw heck, I just like the word “intelligible”. Always kinds of sounds like its tying your tongue in knots when you’re saying it. Ties my fingers in knots typing it.

I was preparing myself for the upcoming Disney/Pixar film Brave, which follows a young Scottish lass and she tries to save her family from an ancient curse. Everyone already knows how much I love Disney movies, and anything claiming to be set pretty much anywhere in history (fictional, magical, medieval Scotland? You’ve got me pinned down, Pixar!), so naturally (or if you’re German, naturlich, which is like one of their favorite phrases, as far as I can tell) I’m excited for this movie, which comes out June 22nd. Seeing the preview, I noticed that Pixar has decided to go with voice actors who have (or are using) Scottish accents, which in my opinion is a pretty bold move. I mean, the movie is primarily aimed at a market of American children, so Pixar appears to be pretty confident about those kids’ ability to understand one of the more difficult English-language dialects (which, at times isn’t really English at all). I consider myself fairly talented at understanding accents and dialects (I watch the BBC all the time, that should do it, right?), but even I was having some trouble following what the characters were saying in the minute-long preview.

So I decided to brush up on my “och aye”s and do some researching into Scottish accents on the good old internet (and any number of novels set in Scotland). Whilst doing that, I came across the phrase “Och aye, I ken it,” which means something along the lines of “yeah, I know”.

And then it hit me. Try to say it with a Scottish accent. If that is a challenge, go google it and see if you can come up with a soundbite of it. Now, German speakers, can you back me up here- doesn’t it sound a lot like “ich kenne es”, which would translate directly (if not really awkwardly) into “I know it”. Grammarians, bite your tongues, since I know that it wouldn’t be the native German speaker’s way of saying “yeah, I know”, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still translate with the same meaning. Anyways, a German speaker listening to Scottish English isn’t going to think it’s entirely sensible anyways, so I doubt they’ll hold the grammar against you. Still- think about it- the languages aren’t as mutually unintelligible as you might think! A German and a Scot might be able to understand eachother, if only for that one phrase! Isn’t that cool?! I’m just sitting here trying to imagine that situation.

I’m not a linguist, but if I was, I would greatly enjoy speculating why or how those two phrases in separate languages might sound similar. (The linguists, they are clever folks, I’m sure they could find a real explanation that isn’t just “hey, it’s a coincidence.”) As for me, I’m going to root for some sort of 8th century Anglo-Saxon connection.

One of my New Favorite People

5 Jan

Quick quiz question:

Which great character of history was born in 1872, got his Ph.D. from Oxford, and is Scottish?

I’ll give you a hint: he’s Scottish. Also fictional.

Still can’t guess? It is my new favorite person, Henry Jones Sr., father of the insanely famous archaeologist Indiana Jones (aka Henry Jones Jr.) On the list of reasons why I like him: he’s a professor of Medieval literature! He’s played by the indefatigable Sean Connery in the George Lucas films (there are books, too, apparently). Sure, he wasn’t the greatest of fathers for young Indiana (“That’s the dog’s name!”), and he isn’t fond of the younger Jones’ particular brand of “research.” (“You call that archaeology?!”)

Despite their rocky relationship, Professor Jones the elder shares a lot with Professor Jones the younger, such as a love of history, archaeology, a penchant for dangerous situations, and the extremely foxy Else Schneider (spoiler alert: she’s a Nazi!) in The Last Crusade. I’ve always thought that I wanted to be Indiana Jones (probably driven by a deep love of archaeology and a deep love of Harrison Ford), but after seeing the amazing Henry Jones Sr. in The Last Crusade, I know that my real life goal is to be him. Awesome medieval professor who roams around Europe doing awesome research? Yep, life goal check.

According to various movie trivia sites and my own memory of the movie, his research focused on chivalry and the Holy Grail (manuscript illuminations and stained glass images). He published a book on chivalry (although in my opinion, the best real book on medieval chivalry is Maurice Keen’s Chivalry, most recent edition 2005) and ended up doing a tour of American academic institutions giving lectures (a rough period for young Indiana). Couldn’t have been all that bad though, since Indiana turned out pretty well (at least as far as I’m concerned).

A quote of his: “May those who illuminated this, illuminate me.”

Rainy Day? Watch a Movie…One of these Movies

23 Sep

I always feel like one of the most fun things to do on a rainy day is to curl up on the couch with some hot cocoa. On the other hand, sitting on a sofa sipping cocoa (or tea, or whatever you’re into) and staring at the ceiling/wall gets boring for some people. For them, I suggest a nice book or movie. And since this is a blog about history (you know, when I occasionally write about things that are relevant to history), I want to pick out some of my favorite historical-type movies. They’re a real grab bag/ mixed-up bunch, so feel free to pick whatever suits your needs (kids’ movie, sad movie, comedy, etc.).

The King and I (1956): An awesome Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about the king of Siam and a British schoolteacher in the 1860s. I love the songs in the movie, I love the characters, I love the storyline. There are more modern versions, but I definitely recommend this one, because it is by far the best. Watch if you’re in the mood for a musical.

The Young Victoria (2009): Watch if you’re in the mood for something moving. It tells the story of a young Queen Victoria (okay not that surprising with the title and all), and how she meets her future husband (although I managed to forgot the actual historical fact that she married him when I was watching the movie and got all concerned she would pick someone else… not to ruin the plot or anything). It’s incredibly well-done, but be prepared for some heart wrenching at the end.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): Yes, it is ridiculous. However, it is very funny. If you haven’t seen it, then you should definitely watch it- even if only to understand a variety of inside jokes stemming from the film. If you haven seen it, then watch it again!

Tristan and Isolde (2006): Starring James Franco (before he was famous- you might not even recognize him!) as a besotted Cornish knight in love with an Irish princess who’s been married off to the knight’s lord. The story itself originated over a thousand years ago and is very Romeo and Juliet-ish. If you’re looking for something romantic, but at a different pace than Young Victoria, this is a good pick.

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003): I found this movie kind of unsettling, but maybe its a good one to tackle on a rainy day. Its about the Dutch painter Vermeer and stars Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson. But since its about a Dutch master, and I’ve been neglecting the art side of this blog, I’ll go ahead and pick it anyways. At least if you watch it, you’ll end up feeling like you know more about Vermeer (no one will know you “learned” about him in a movie).

A Knight’s Tale (2001): Full of great rock music, and not nearly as dreary as many period films. This movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and is fun to watch. Not terribly historically accurate, but a fun and funny choice.

Far and Away (1992): Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise star in this movie as Irish immigrants moving to America. This one is a bonus for US history buffs (Oklahoma land rush, anyone?).

Shanghai Noon (2002): Hilarious comedy with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Full of really great immature jokes and possibly some history in there. Perfect if you’re in the mood to see Jackie Chan cause accidental injury to himself and Owen Wilson make jokes about the Wild West. More fun for the American history people (sometimes all those British dramas get you down).

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005): This movie is beautiful, but very sad. Make sure you’re really in the mood for it before you watch it, and maybe have some tissues on hand. It’s about a girl growing up in Japan and being trained as a geisha. This movie shows the interesting clash between old and new in 20th century Japan as the result of WWII (and other factors).

Newsies (1992): Possibly my favorite movie ever made. This movie is about the 1899 newsboy strike in New York. Also, it is a musical (sorry, they’re my favorite genre- note that I’ve mostly spared you from Disney movies and musicals in this list). It’s upbeat and fun, and not a bad movie at all. Plus, a young Christian Bale sings- in a New York accent.

TV Series Honorable Mentions: The Tudors (of course), Pillars of the Earth (technically an 8-part miniseries), Manor House (a British documentary that sends people back in time- really!), Downton Abbey (a 7-part miniseries about British aristocracy in 1912)

Period Pieces I Strongly Suggest You Skip: Clash of the Titans (2010), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Casanova (2005), Marie Antoinette (2006) Happy movie watching!