La vie et le rêve du cinema – Pola Negri

The knowledge about silent movies is not really spread among people, even among those, who claim to be extremely knowledgeable about cinema in general. I often hear opinions of my friends saying that they can’t imagine watching movies of the 20’s because they’re boring and… and yeah, silent. But when I ask if they had ever tried to watch some, the answer is always no. No wonder – even in the Internet era it is still quite difficult to get access to such movies – outside the US fiding a DVD copy is impossibly hard, but even in the US itself not all valuable movies of that period have ever been released. The world seems to have forgotten the most exciting age of the cinema, when Hollywood was still just a big field with couple of houses and movie studios and when so-called American dream was for the asking – most of movie stars of that time started as poor imigrants from Europe and made their way to splendid careers, something which now is hardly imaginable.

The reason why I became so interested in silent movies was one person – POLA NEGRI. Funny thing, being from the same country I had almost no idea about her – the Poles simply erased her from national memory. Why so? That is a good question, but without an answer. Poles tend to complain that they have so few famous all over the world stars in every possible field, why don’t they spread the word about their ONLY Hollywood star ever on the planet? Pola’s life was like the one taken from a fairy tale – poor Polish girl who lived with mother in the suburbs of Warsaw, who was determined enough to get admitted to ballet school, who worked so hard to start playing in the theatre and in the first Polish silent movies, which made her way straight to Berlin and the best German producers – and then to Hollywood. Forget Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo – it was her to be the first European actress invited by Hollywood to perform in American movies. What made her so special? Not only the looks. It was her independent character and hot temper that made her always be in the centre of attention. Women wanted to be like her – they didn’t want to be housewives anymore – and they copied her all the time. Did you know that Pola was the first to put red nail polish on her toes? She also made turbans around hair and ‘greek’ sandals extremely fashionable all over America. But her personal life was, on the contrary, unfortunate. She was married couple of times but she was head over heels in love only once – when she met Rudolph Valentino, idol of all women interested in cinema. He died suddenly just after they had decided to get married. Pola never got over it completely and her star stopped shining so brightly ever since.

She died at 90, alone, having no children and no husband.

We often think that silent movies have nothing to offer, after all now we can find all we want in cinema: nudity, sex, speciall effects. But watch one of Pola’s early movies – for example “Sumurum” – there’s much more eroticism in her every move, facial expression, little gestures, than in a random contemporary movie where everything is exposed. Also the plot of silent dramas never lets me down, till the very end you often don’t know how the story will end: will it be a happy ending or quite the contrary? That’s why it cannot be said that silent movies are boring or primitive, they are simply different and cannot be compared to anything else. I guess that acting was much more difficult at that time than it is now and it demanded a real talent as they had to play with their whole body, especially face was important. Now half of the movie can be filled with dialogues or computer effects, back then a 100 minutes long movie had some real action going on all the time to make it interesting to the audience. Everything was real, even though made by “Dream Factory” of Hollywood.