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LIFE IS A DREAM IN CINEMA – POLA NEGRI.  USA. 2006. 89 min.
Director – MARIUSZ KOTOWSKI; Screenplay – LYNN MORAN; Cinematographers – SIMONE ZIMMERMANN, ELKE STAPPER; Music – FREDERIC CHOPIN, performed by Mariusz Gorz; Producer – HEIDI HUTTER; Narration – CINDI WILLIAMS. Bright Shining City Productions.

Pola Negri's place in cinema history cannot be underestimated, as she was the beginning of many firsts in the movies, including popularizing European films in the United States, opening the way for international film artists in Hollywood, popularizing fashions that are with us to this day, and broadening the expression of sex on the screen. She was the first European star to come to America and paved the way for Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Yet few people today know this magnificent actress or the dramatic events of her life, including her liaisons with Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino.

What does it mean to be a star? Why do some actors become stars and legends for all time? Life is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri brings the story of the great actress back to life and shows the incredible range she demonstrated through the silent films and into the talkies and from black-and-white into color with clips of her films, photographs of the star from throughout her life, interviews with people who have made a study of her life and times, and recollections of the people who knew her, including Academy-Award Winning actress Hayley Mills and actor Eli Wallach, who performed with Negri in THE MOON-SPINNERS (1963), her final film. Many other experts in their fields shared knowledge and insights about Negri: Professor Jeanine Basinger, author of Silent Stars; A.C. Lyles, producer for Paramount Pictures; Alfred Allan Lewis, ghostwriter of Memoirs of a Star, Pola's autobiography; Emily Leider, author of Rudolph Valentino biography Dark Lover; Anthony Slide, film historian; David Gasten, webmaster of The Pola Negri Appreciation Site; and Scott Eyman, author of Beyond Laughter: Ernst Lubitsch.

POLA NEGRI (Barbara Apolonia Chalupiec) was born in December 1896 or January 1897 in Janowa, Poland. Miss Negri had a flair for self-publicity, so she gave her birthday as December 31, 1899 – perhaps to lessen her age, but also to add the drama of being born on the eve of a new century. After her father was arrested by the Russians and sent to Siberia, she and her mother moved to Warsaw in 1902. She was to spend her formative years in dire poverty. As a teenager, Pola auditioned for and was admitted to the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet. Because of an illness which ended her dancing career, she soon switched to the Warsaw Imperial Academy of Dramatic Arts and became an actress. She made a spectacular debut in 1913 in the play HANNELE at the Rozmaitosci Theatre. By 17, she was a star on the stage in Warsaw, but World War I would soon change the theater scene.

Pola turned to films. Her first main role was in the film The Beast, in 1915. She made eight films with director Alexander Hertz in Poland. Max Reinhardt spotted her during a visit to Warsaw and convinced her to move to Berlin. With her new career in pictures and her stage success in SUMURU, she went to Berlin and was teamed with her fellow actor, Ernst Lubitsch, who then became her director in her early European films. The Lubitsch-Negri combination was very successful and the roles that Pola played were of earthy, exotic, strong women. The films SUMURUN, CARMEN and MADAME DUBARRY established Pola Negri as a box office sensation in Europe. It was no surprise that Hollywood came calling. One of her films, MADAME DUBARRY (1919), was optioned and retitled as PASSION (1919) for presentation in America.

The film was such a success that by 1922, Pola and Lubitsch were both given contracts by Paramount Pictures. Negri had in fact made 9 films in Poland and 17 in Germany by the time she joined Paramount, for whom she went on to make 20 movies, all of which were box office successes. The best known are THE SPANISH DANCER, FORBIDDEN PARADISE, MEN, HOTEL IMPERIAL, BARBED WIRE, and A WOMAN OF THE WORLD. Negri’s publicity increased with her reported romances with such stars as Chaplin and Valentino. FORBIDDEN PARADISE (1924), made with director Lubitsch, and HOTEL IMPERIAL (1927) were two of her most successful films.

But things conspired to end her career in Hollywood. Pola made a spectacle of herself when she threw herself on the late Rudolph Valentino’s coffin at his funeral in 1926. The fans felt that she was acting in public and began to turn away from her. The Hays Office, which regulated film content, would not allow her to portray the vamp roles that made her famous elsewhere. And finally, the era of sound pictures ended the career of many silent stars. She returned to Europe after her contract expired to perform in vaudeville shows and a film in London titled THE WOMAN HE SCORNED. In 1932, she returned to Hollywood and made her first talkie titled A WOMAN COMMANDS. Pola even sang in the film and her song, Paradise, became an international hit.

Negri then returned to Europe to work at UFA in Germany from 1935 to 1938. Her best-known films from that period are MAZURKA, TANGO NOTTURNO, MADAME BOVARY and FROM MOSCOW TO SHANGHAI. Pola never appeared in any propaganda films. Resisting mounting pressures from the Nazi propaganda machine, she finally fled from Germany to France where she worked for the Red Cross and then, via Portugal, returned in 1941 to America, penniless. In New York she was befriended by the heiress Margaret West.

Pola Negri spent the next 46 years of her life living quietly with her friend in Los Angeles and then in San Antonio, Texas. She made only two more films: HI DIDDLE DIDDLE in 1943 and THE MOON-SPINNERS in 1964, with Hayley Mills. Negri became a US citizen in 1951. In 1970, her autobiography, Memoirs of a Star, was published. All in all she had acted in 62 movies. Retiring to San Antonio, Texas, she died on August 1, 1987. She is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. Her star on the Walk of Fame is at 6933 Hollywood Blvd. She was the 11th Hollywood star in Hollywood history to place her palm and foot imprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Miss Negri was married twice; first to Count Dambski and then to Prince Mdvani. Both marriages ended in divorce. Miss Negri always said that Valentino had been the love of her life.

MARIUSZ KOTOWSKI, film director


Mariusz Kotowski with film historian
Jeanine Basinger during the filming of
his documentary
Life Is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri
.

Born in Olsztyn, Poland in 1967. As a child in Poland, he was exposed to film and developed a love of the art form. He pursued his training in the arts as a dancer and choreographer and also attained his Masters in Education while sill in Poland. He studied in London and became the first person from Poland to be awarded a triple Fellowship in dance by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing in London. He performed and competed throughout Europe. In 1988, he moved to America and ultimately achieved his Certificate in Film Directing from New York University. Soon thereafter, he began work on his first film, Life is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri, eventually investing three years of work and a considerable personal fortune into bringing this documentary to the screen. He is currently in production for his first feature film, and has two additional feature films planned for 2006 and 2007. He lives and works in Austin, Texas. His production company, Bright Shining City Productions, can be reached at www.brightshiningcity.com