God yes, it’s my favorite siren’s birthday today. She is to turn 118! My best wishes are to her, wherever she may be. According to my calendar, today is a significant day for movie history and for me also. No one can forget this actress with mystical talents, who is mostly remembered for her public emotional displays, once they’ve heard of her or seen her dramatic excellence on the screen.
She always said that her birthday was on December 31st, 1899, only to sound more interesting. Born on the last day of the century, you know? However, some time after her death, records of her Polish birth certificate were found and declared that she was born on January 3rd, 1897. Hey, at least her fake birth date was as notorious as her personality was.
I’m not quite sure if I’ve already written of how I discovered her but I am to do so now.
I first read the name of Pola Negri on the title of a humorously written article about her life. The writer added laughable remarks about her life based on contemporary standards. I loved reading her articles about Hollywood stars I had never heard of. She did a very good job on her research because this one was nearly accurate. At the time my Vivien Leigh obsession was at its peak and I thought no one could top her or be any more captivating, yet I wanted to know more of stars from early films. To me the 1930s was the oldest era of film I had seen movies from then. I was reading stuff about Theda Bara and thought her pretty original and appealing. What followed was my discovery of Hedy Lamarr, who strongly resembled Vivien Leigh, but didn’t catch much of my interest. I then read the name “Pola Negri” and it sounded….very different and a spark of wild interest flared in my brain immediately.
Though what drew me to her at once was her photograph. Her dark eyes bewitched me with their mysticism.
They command you to love her in many forms, even through worship. I thought her so natural, so exquisite and so unlike from what other ladies looked like in those days. Her face meant something so great that I didn’t know what it was. She was otherworldly. Unreal. No one could be as nearly as beauteous. I didn’t know she would change my life for the better. Maybe I did but wasn’t aware of it.
I soon found myself looking mostly at her portraits. I was very much drawn to her beauty. She was a fragile mannequin but with a hardened, sophisticated spirit. I began to refer to her as my favorite movie star but I hadn’t seen any of her films. My eyes needed to see this glorious phantasm beautifully haunt the screen.
By then the only silent movie I had really watched was Nosferatu. Of course, who hasn’t seen it? It’s a fantastic vampire film that has aged well with audiences! There’s even a version of it with only Type O Negative songs.
A few months later, I watched The Wildcat, a funny Lubitsch silent classic with sets that kind of mocked the big Expressionism movement that was happening in Germany. I first saw Pola in this one. She was comical! She played a tomboyish girl who was the daughter of a leader of bandits. I remember that part when she woke up and refreshed her face with snow. She was also the mountain whip queen!
There’s this thing with Lubitsch comedies that makes them vastly different from other comedies. Maybe it’s the acting, the slapstick, the outcome of events, the intertitles….IT’S ALL OF THAT! Good lord, Ernst Lubitsch made Pola simulate a boyish maiden! Just look at her in that scene where she is dreaming of her crush! Or where she is powdering her face! Her movements! The enlightened look of her eyes! Looking and noticing her features require esoteric appreciation. She is alive in this performance. I actually chuckled through this film.
That’s when it began. My visual thirst for her film appearances could not be assuaged. I decided to watch Sumurun right after. It’s an Arabian Night fairytale. Pola twirls. Harry Liedtke is uncomfortable. Sumurun is almost executed. It’s a twisted tale from an Aladdin type of story book, though this is better. At first, the film didn’t appeal to me as much because it was so odd and silly……but I gave it a few more tries by watching it over and over again….It’s now my favorite film of hers. You get to take a look at her sensuality. She was the first one to introduce sex to films, but in good taste. POLA TWIRLS!
I love the music for the tinted version! The piano sounds go all over the place….with every movement of an actor. This one is highly recommended and deserves a good old restoration (like the recently made one of Caligari).
Well, of course, soon after this I started to read everything I could find about the star with the jet black hair. I bought her out of print Memoirs of a Star and her spoon….Oh yes and a load of her films. I couldn’t believe the little praise she received even from silent cinema fans…That’s probably because of her behavior in Valentino’s funeral. There is also the tiny bit of recognition she has from audiences! Pola is important. What once impressed me though was when I chatting with a Polish youngster, she told me she actually knew her name and liked to sing along to “Tango Notturno”. WOW.
Another film that I absolutely without questions must recommend and praise is Madame Dubarry. That was her biggest hit! Oh, how I love her costume dramas! OH, I JUST LOVE ALL THE FILMS SHE MADE WITH LUBITSCH IN GERMANY!!
There are some comedic parts in that film….For example, when Harry Liedtke is left outside waiting while Pola is inside “helping” the wife of the Spanish Ambassador try on a new dress. Oh, no, no. She is there inside kissing the hell out of the Ambassador! When Harry gets fed up with waiting, he attempts to enter the Ambassador’s house but a guard stops him. Harry proudly demands him to let him see his betrothed. Oh, god, how I love the guard’s reaction to that. He tells Harry that his betrothed and the Ambassador are there on a date! There is not even a wife! OH, THE GUARD!!
And, yes, there are astonishing dramatic scenes in that film. They just move you. The score in the restored version is mind-blowing. In the beginning specially. It makes my heart beat. Pola can act with any emotion! She’ll be silly. She can blend humor with sex. (Petitions in bosoms?) She can cry. She can plead for succor. She can be enraged. Pola’s specialty was her manner of showing human emotion. That is why her silent films are so moving and intense.
The ending will send shivers down your spine. Watch the restored (uncensored) version. It will impress you as it did back then to audiences. Charlie Chaplin developed a crush on her after watching this.
A film I really haven’t even mentioned has been The Eyes of the Mummy. This was her first collaboration with Lubitsch. It appears to be of those early stalker films if you see it. HA-HA! Harry Liedtke suffers yet again for Pola in this one! Though she isn’t the cause…Emil Jannings in the film is so obsessed with her, he follows her everywhere! Watch her dance in that film….You can see how well her ballet training paid off. What I really love in this film is how she falls down the stairs in the tragic ending…You don’t need sound to give it more effect. Pola’s movements talked for her.
And I also really do love Sappho, but I’ve already written a post about that one. In Carmen, she is such a tramp! Poor Harry Liedtke and bad Pola! She did play a beautiful gypsy though.
No, I have not forgotten of her American films. She did make some good ones even though most of them are now lost. A Woman of the World is loved by audiences….I liked the film. She was a vampy type of glamorous girl. She was precious. Her acting was fabulous. It’s just…just….too dry. The story mostly. Nothing much happened. Everything went too fast. It didn’t really go anywhere or touch my soul as other films of hers have. It was too American. Too simple. I didn’t feel it. Didn’t feel the tinge of magic I am familiar with when I watch her films. It didn’t feel like real Pola. She was still GREAT though. The clothes. The acting. Maybe I should watch it again. I’m being too critical. That’s all I’m going to say about this.
Barbed Wire was….majestic. My eyes watered at the end. Pola is again a peasant….but a feisty one who survives. She appears strong among men but can cry her eyes out in moments of desolation.
I loved the part where she is looking out the window. In this film, she can’t help her heart. She falls in love with the wrong man. Her father gets a heart attack when knowing of this. What can she do about her sentiments while the whole village demeans her and threatens to throw her out? I felt the essence of Pola’s emotions in this one….They were very honest mostly because Valentino had died the year before and she was probably still grieving. This is one of her best. She shows all types of emotions. Her display of despair is the best.
If you ever want to hear Pola talk, please, oh please, watch Mazurka. If you don’t know German, then you can obtain a DVD copy of it with English subtitles on the internet. It was just released a little while ago. That is her best talkie! She sings with all her romantic might…She feels the music and the lyrics. She yells. She cries! Oh, the end saddened me!
So…yes. That is how my obsession flourished. I plan on leaving roses on her and her mother’s grave in L.A. I can’t even wait to put my hands on her hand prints and step on her footprints outside the Chinese Theater. I must also catch a screening of Mania when visiting Europe soon! She is possibly the biggest role model, idol, heroine, feminine icon I’ve ever had. And I am thankful of that. I am thankful she existed. Her life was one hell of a journey, which makes it doubly fascinating to know about. Even though I don’t know why I’m so drawn to her, I still love her all the while. I don’t care if she’s not that famous anymore. She’s one of those gems that one finds after digging through loads of others. She is a cinematic relic whose preservation we must treat with care. She was sultry. She was careful with her work. I will always keep her secured in my heart and alive in my existence. She is to inspire me many times in my life and guide me to a great deal of eccentric places. Have a great birthday, Pola.