Monday, 7 March 2011

Pola Negri: Smoke that Cigarette

If you're internet connection seems to have slowed down, it may be this post.

Thenews pl tells me that a 1918 film called 'Mania: A History of Workers in a Cigarette Factory' is being used to promote Poland during the Polish Presidency of the EU.

If I hadn't been living in Poland or known any Polish film fans, I would probably have wondered why - a cigarette film! quickly furnished me with more information: Officers ... have seized an illegal cigarette plant in Lazy, near Warsaw, thought to be the biggest contraband cigarette facility in Europe, to date. Thirty two people - including Polish, Lithuanian and Bulgarian citizens - were detained by law enforcement agents. Sixteen of them have been arrested under criminal charges. A very topical 1918 film. Sounds good.

Lazy is in fact Wazi (spelt Łazy) and is not far from me. We went to look at the school there, which had a very high reputation except that it was viewed to be highly competitive at the expense of being friendly. Misia (Meesha) went and is going to the local school here in Młochów, which seems to be as good at both as we could have hoped for. I think the Warsaw TV mast is in its district, but I'm not sure. It isn't included in Polish Wikipedia.

Actually the film is being used to exploit the fame of Pola Negri, a Polish woman who became [one of] the world's greatest international actresses. (See about a campaign against exploitation of women.) This had to be explained to me because I'd never heard of her: "Do you know Pola Negri?"; "No, what is it - a Black Field?". Mary Pickford: yes; Gloria Swanson: yes; Pola Negri: no. If people generally are as ignorant as I, I can only hope that the film will provide her with some publicity. It's only now that I have bothered to find something out about her.

Wikipedia comes to the rescue as always. Surprisingly, the English version is better than the Polish, but I guess she is not of much interest to the Polish Wiki generation. To be honest, I get the impression she was more famous as a sex symbol and notorious celebrity than an actress: love affairs with Valentino and Chaplin. There is no truth in the rumour that she had a love affair with Hitler in the 1930s, although he was a great fan.

So who was she? I've yet to watch them fully, but I have found some links. This is a trailer for a 2006 documentary:

One of those beautiful Polish women, certainly. Photos, with her singing:

More photos with some atmospheric modern music:

The film I'm most likely remember her from is Disney's 1964 film 'The Moon-Spinners' (1964) starring Hayley Mills, but I'm not even sure she was on the main cast list (or that I'd have cared about anyone other than sweet, little Hayley. Pola Negri appears as Madame Habib.

There is even a full length film available, from which I have seen at least the beginning before: Hi Diddle Diddle from 1943 - Pola Negri was about 46. I think she appears after about 5 minutes, screeching away badly as only a good singer could (maybe).


Jeremy said...

An interesting piece. I heard about the raid on the factory (by CBS if I recall) but did not associated with my eraly morning runs to Warsaw. Virtually every second Saturday at about 6 in the morning I pass though Łazy on my way to Warsaw (assuming its the one on the E30 from Łódź. I will now look at it in a whole new light :)

As for the actress, my Internet is to slow to check your videos but she looks great in the stills.

Silent Crawler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Silent Crawler said...

Great to know a South Londoner's opinion on Poland!

Pola Negri isn't well recognised by the current generation of Poles. Perhaps it's because of the communist censorship, but I'm not sure about that.

Pan Steeva said...

I can't remember now why I thought it was my local Łazy - on the Krakow Road (E77?) just before Janki. I may have been wrong.

I've added Annoyance to my list. Nice to hear from you. I may comment on the Lord of the Rings before too long.