Pola Negri in Bella Donna

The Elegy of Pola

Pola Negri in Bella Donna

The Black Lotus Flower of Europa has been transplanted to America… but…

A shriek rent the air. It was the climax.

The torment of music ceased, and Pola Negri a quivering, throbbing, brooding black mound of nerves lay huddled together upon the floor in front of the gilt doorway.

Slowly, almost tenderly, to an accompaniment of plaintive melody, a half-naked Nubian slave bent over her, touched her and then, with the semblance of a deep sorrow etching his face, lifted her to her feet. As he wound about her the lace of a mantilla, she stood swaying a moment, her eyes listless—empty their wells of feeling, her head beating back and forth in a dull rhythm. Then, step by step, hesitatingly, uncertainly, she half tottered out beyond the range of lights, beyond the camera itself, lost seemingly in a hypnotic mood that overhung scene and setting and onlookers, a mood nocturnal and vast as the surging, passionate desert blast that had swept and wasted and finally was destroying the bloom of its exquisitely deceptive flower— Bella Donna.

I had been watching one of the final scenes in Miss Negri’s first American picture. Nobody but would have admitted this a privilege. It was, in fact, almost lese majesty for any stranger to be on the set. Nearly as many permissions had to be obtained to enable me to look on as are required for an audience with a Grand Lama. At least, I was told that they had been obtained, but the possible significance of this excess of formalities was absolutely lost on me once I came aboard Baroudi’s love barge, where it was securely moored to the floor of the studio stage. I am not particularly concerned with formalities, anyhow, not even when they concern Europe’s most celebrated screen actress.

Baroudi’s love barge was the background for the culminating emotional scenes of Pola Negri in “Bella Donna.” The hysterical episode I had just observed, with, I might say, almost bated breath, was one of these. The heroine had just received her blunt congé from the sheikish Oriental exquisite, who had ensnared her. She was left quite alone in a world that did not love her and did not want her. The dark lotus of her charm was broken, the leaping flame of her youth was dying away. Destiny’s tragic claim was written on her brow, and one sensed for her the approach of the blackest hour:

Less than the dust beneath thy chariot wheel,
Less than the rust that never stained thy sword,
Less than the trust thou hast in me, my lord,
Even less am I, even less am I

Truly, I believe, you have never yet really seen Pola Negri on the screen. Always there has been some obscuring fault of make-up. Even as it has actually clouded her resplendent beauty, so, too, I feel, it has but half disclosed her radiant art.

To behold her now, fully illumined by the dazzle of our insurpassable lighting, and the minute excellence of our photography, will be like a glorious revelation. Lily-white her hands and face, orchidlike the spirit of her beauty. She is at once the sinister nightshade, and the white lotus, a blossom of ecstasy and a bloom of torment

A dark cool night, and oversweet
With tuberose breath;
A jeweled javelin in the heart,
Ecstatic death.

Those who have appeared in her picture have confessed to me their absolute inability to cope with her. They accuse her, in fact, of not giving a single thing. She rules the set absolutely as its mistress, and that is something that can well be understood after one watches her and realizes how much of herself she literally hurls into her acting.

She has been known to stand for minutes before a mirror, pretending to be making up her lips or her eyes. In reality she was not making up at all. That was only a pretext. She was going through her preparations for the next episode. She tested every expression of her face, studied it from every angle, endeavored to get over some undreamed-of nuance of feeling, some absolutely new light of eyes, curve of lips, engraving of forehead, to eliminate if possible a spoken title, which titles, she frankly admits, and with a positive venom in her voice, “I hat’.”

To Pola Negri music is the essence of her art. One might almost say that it is also the essence of her being. To it may be ascribed the vivid fluency of her acting. In Europe she was accustomed to have only the finest sort of compositions to accompany her acting — Tschaikowsky, Beethoven, and sometimes—though rarely, because he depresses her—Wagner. On her arrival in Hollywood she cast out all the jazz ensembles that were brought her as if they had been the seven devils. It was only after many fits of temperament and finally an absolute refusal to work, I believe, that she finally obtained a makeshift of piano and cello that pleased her. A feverish Lament of Grieg had been selected as the motif for her closing emotional tempest in “Bella Donna.” The melody tossed and undulated beneath the bow of a cellist, becoming every moment more languishing, more restless. As Pola faced Baroudi, and learned that, after her bitter sacrifice of Nigel, the Oriental no longer wanted her, that, in fact, a new Circe had already captivated him, the elegy in tone became a veritable delirium. One sensed almost a demand from the actress that the music should be her stimulus; one felt that the players played for her as they had never played before. Such, indeed, is the magnetism the well-nigh uncanny bewitchment of Pola.

Strangely, fantastically, in tune with her desespoir, the while, was the love boat’s Nirvana harmony in black and gold—a subtle Oriental harmony built on one of those weird scales of tone that come out of the heart of the Far East. The deep inlays and intricate patternings of the narrow doors became momentarily deeper and darker. The grilled windows, fretted with a design as dainty as Chantilly lace, were lost in the febrile mists. The deep divan cushioned with inky and yellow silks, became wan as in the light of dawn, its fitful purple scarflike coverings softening to amber, and its rose and fuchsia hangings to a methitic mauve. One sensed, too, almost the sick lapping of the waters of the Nile, and the oppressive portents of pyramids and sphinx and desert waste.

I know of no other setting that more admirably. seemed to accommodate itself to the moods of its star, even as it also breathed so much of the storied wonders of the incensed far away. The skill of George Fitzmaurice, the director, who promises to become truly recognized as an artist of the screen, I sensed, had been at work again, and this time for the sake of a locale that had stimulated all his fancy for the exotic, even as “To Have and To Hold” had caught his imagination in the web of the romantic.

The story of “Bella Donna” has, of course, been modified. A reason has been given for the heroine’s malefic character. Ouida Bergere, the scenarioist, told me that she felt this was justified because the original Bella Donna of the Hichens novel, while she was sirenically alluring as colored with literary descriptions, would not produce the same illusion of enchantment when coldly lighted in the silver shadows. Also, I have no doubt, Bella Donna, thus portrayed, would be far too pathological a specimen for the sensitive dispositions of the censors, and rather than risk her mutilation, it was decided to temper her. This was accomplished by allowing her to suffer an unhappy marriage before the main story opens. We sense Swansonian wormwood here, but what of it? Pola herself approved, for to me she repeated her oft- heard assertion that she docs not “want to play ze bad ladies.”

What she really means by this is that she does not want to play rôles without sympathy—straight vampire roles, sans raison d’être. She wants to reach the heart of her public as well as its mind. Will she? I wonder. Pola and the public’s tears? Somehow they seem incompatible. Yet it is for those tears that she seeks and strives and struggles with the frenetic intensity of her art, showering in diamonded cascade the scene with her own unleashed grief.

“When I weep it is not for myself alone ; it ees for everybody,” she told me, half chanting the words. “I theenk always of audience, people, everywhere, all, sorrowful weeping wiz me. I poot my whol’ heart, my whol’ soul into my art, my expression, my tears, so zat zey may feel wiz me what I feel, so zat zey perhaps suffair what I suffair.

“I want to play Bella Donna sympathetique. I do not believ’ she should be play’ like bad woman—like vampir’—I do not believe that woman ar’ evair vampir’ by natur’. Woman become vampir’ because of situation, circumstance—what you call—fate! No woman become bad by natur’, but by fate.”

“And because.” I ventured, perhaps…because, of some man? I mean that woman’s wrongdoing is contingent—dependent sometimes on the wrongdoing of some man.”

There was a subtle flash between us. And then, a moment’s pause, and

“That is an interesting psychological question, but”—and this was delicately yet, I might say, nearly tigerishly emphatic—‘“I do not care to discus’…!”

There was finality in the answer. Our talk ended shortly after. It taught me that Pola is not given to gossiping about the questions of life as we in America do quite casually and on every street corner. Her experience with telltale interviewers has, perhaps, made her more cautious than ever! Anyway, she cares only to converse regarding her art, and life only as it is related to her art. To all queries aside from this she generally replies now, “I do not care to discus’ ’’—even as, to the inquiries concerning her rumored marriage to Chaplin, she has maintained a frigidly dynamic silence. You can guess, if you will, what her views and her sentiments are regarding life and its personal relationships, but you can only know her through her art. There is about her consequently something enigmatically alluring, and that, I believe, is her highest enthrallment, that and her marvelous treasure of talent and emotion.

Will America change her? One wonders, because one can only wonder. She may remain here for the space of two years now, and in that time what may not happen! America has always been reckoned a great melting pot for all. Yes, perhaps. For nearly all, but there are some… like Pola.

Edwin Schallert
(Picture-Play Magazine, March 1923)

Cinematografia Italiana ed Estera Gennaio 1911 II

“Anna Karénine” di Maurice André Maître (Le Film Russe- Pathé Frères 1911)

Are Advertising Films Wanted.
To the Editor of The Bioscope.
Sir, — I have been an interested reader of your article on “Are Advertising Films Wanted?” and also Mr. W. H. Rothacker’s reply thereto, and venture to express my own personal opinion on the matter. As the proprietor of a group of West of England Shows, I must emphatically assert that if I were to put on a film advertising and booming somebody’s whiskey, even if it merely showed the whole process, but included one particular firm’s name, and kept running that film, my business would fall off. I fully agree with you that the patrons of picture theatre pay to see a picture entertainment, not picture advertising, and consider it would indeed be the height of foolishness to even attempt such a procedure.
Mr. Rothacker says that “we build moving picture plays, arranged in scenic form, around a commercial subject, so that, while they accomplish their object with publicity force, the ulterior motives are successfully veiled.” To my mind —and I think a good many of your readers’ also—this ingenious argument is much on a par with the exciting article we read in a magazine, which as the story progresses, is merely a puff for somebody’s pills, or a patent medicine. We all know how irritated we feel when we have been tricked into reading it. And I am very much afraid that my audiences would see through such a device as Mr. Rothacker suggests, and I should suffer.
Advertising films are not required, Sir, and never will be, in my opinion.—Yours, etc.,
Bath, January 11, 1911.

To the Editor of The Bioscope.
Sir,— I think Mr. Rothacker gives his entire case away when replying to your editorial comments of December 8th. Though his arguments are very persuasive and ingenious, yet they lack conviction, and I feel certain the majority of exhibitors endorse your opinion, that advertising films—of whatever nature—are not required.
I should like to the point out that a very large number of exhibitors are the opinion that all industrial subjects are of an advertising nature, and while not committing myself entirely to this way of thinking, I certainly agree that it is possible to produce an educational subject, dealing with any industry, without in the slightest degree advertising anyone. People visit picture theatre to see the pictures; if they wish for anything else they go elsewhere. And they will very quickly resent any attempt to introduce a “puff” in any shape or form.
You have, I feel sure, convinced all thinking men that the best interests of the picture theatre lie in entertaining and instructing. Therefore, when a film is shown merely for the purpose of advertising any commodity, or individual, or company—whether it be an industrial subject, comedy, drama, or whatnot, and even if the actual “puff” is carefully veiled—to quote. Mr. Rothacker—it is merely descending to the level of a “pictorial advertising hoarding.”—Yours, etc.,
W. H. B.
London W., January 13, 1911.

To the Editor of The Bioscope.
Sir,— As an advertising agent of many years’ experience, may I state that I am in full agreement with Mr. Rothacker’s views, as expressed in his letter appearing in a recent number of The Bioscope. There is a big field, with unlimited scope, open for a film manufacturer courageous enough to commence producing films advertising, in an inoffensive and pleasing manner, anything worth pushing. There is no need to make such films obvious advertisements, but to combine with an interesting story a carefully prepared suggestion. It is done every day in magazines and newspapers of every description, yet no one objets and says he has not got value for his money. The advertisement pages of a magazine afford much interesting reading, and are practically as much appreciated as the literary matter. So it is with the advertising film. The audience would certainly not object, but would appreciate the inclusion of an extra subject in the program, and there is no reason why such a film could not be the most popular feature of the entertainment.
No, Sir, there is no real argument to be advanced against advertising films, only by those who have not as yet grasped the fact that business can be done through them—business fort the showman, the manufacturer and the actual advertiser, to say nothing of the general public.—
Yours, etc.,
London, E. C., January 12, 1911.

L’Affiche au Cinéma. Le mode le plus intéressant de publicité cinématographique est, sans contredit, l’affiche artistique qui, placée à la porte du théâtre, attire le passant et le familiarise dès l’abord avec les personnages, les costumes et les décors du spectacle.
L’art de l’affiche, dans lequel s’illustrèrent des maîtres comme Chéret, Steinlein, Grün et Capiello, a transformé en quelque sorte la publicité. Mais ce serait mai connaître le goût éclairé du public que de vouloir lui faire accepter les innombrables horreurs bariolées dont certains maisons avaient naguère le monopole. Dans le Cinéma tout se perfectionne avec une rapidité admirable, tout s’épure. De même que la scène a cessé d’appartenir à ces mercantis interlopes qui s’étaient érigés en éducateurs et en amuseurs des foules et les a remplacés par de véritables travailleurs épris d’art et de beauté, de même l’affiche a dû être confiée à de véritables artistes. Les Etablissements Gaumont l’ont admirablement compris en ouvrant dès le début leurs ateliers d’imprimerie lithographique, d’où sortent chaque semaine les superbes affiches en couleurs universellement connues et recherchées même des collectionneurs.
Mais à côté des affiches, dont la préparation est fort longue, la nécessité s’imposait de créer un autre genre plus expéditif et s’adaptant aves les nécessités d’una maison qui édite chaque semaine un programme de huit à dix bandes nouvelles et tend à avoir une affiche pour chacune. C’est pour cela qu’ont été faits ces agrandissements photographiques, avec encadrements artistiques, qui ont conquis l’approbation générale.
Ils ont un double avantage, d’abord ils donnent au public l’expression exacte de la bande et du jeu des artistes, puisque l’image agrandie est une coupure de la vue elle-même, dans le mouvement et dans l’action; ensuite ils permettent de reproduire les titres en toutes langues et contribuent ainsi plus facilement que l’affiche en couleurs à porter la joie et l’émotion dans les pays les plus reculés du monde.
C’est une affiche de ce genre qui vient d’être tirée pour la très artistique bande Les Danses Silhouettes de Mlle Hyppolyta d’Hellas, dont nous avons parlé dans notre dernière chronique.
Les Etablissements Gaumont en ont assuré la luxueuse édition pour pouvoir la livrer en même temps que la bande et moyennant un supplément de trois francs.
S. Le Tourneur

“Santa Cecilia” (La martire cristiana) di Enrique Santos (Cines 1911)

Giganti e Pigmei. Si persuadano i nostri artisti di prosa, che la Cinematografia non è l’arte del palcoscenico, ch’è loro famigliare; è un arte nuova, nella quale entra, coefficiente principalissimo, una gran parte di tecnica, e senza la perfetta conoscenza di questa, anche i giganti del palcoscenico non valgono gli oscuri pigmei che da anni lavorano, studiano e lottano, e superano difficoltà sempre nuove, crescendo sempre i valore nell’arte della cinematografia, ed essendo sempre più desiderati dai loro direttori scenici, perché hanno imparato e sanno far comprendere molte cose con un solo gesto, netto, incisivo, e riesce loro facile esprimere, con uno sguardo, i sentimenti che agitano l’animo del personaggio che rappresentano. È vero che per loro non ci sono ancora onori, non articoli laudativi, non paghe mirabolanti: ma è anche vero che i tempi stanno mutando anche per loro e che quello che fino ad ora non hanno ottenuto, otterranno ben presto. Il pubblico dei cinematografo ha già più di un beniamino: per ora distingue l’attrice con gli occhioni espressivi dell’altra bionda ed esile, o da quella fortemente passionale, veemente; ma presto s’impossesserà dei nomi delle artiste e degli artisti prediletti e citandoli spesso, formerà attorno a loro una aureola di piccola celebrità, e le Case produttrici se li contenderanno a colpi di biglietti di banca… Così, nella cinematografia, ai volenterosi ed agli studiosi, saranno riservati quelli allori e quella fortuna che i colossi dell’arte della scena non hanno saputo conquistare, perché, quantunque privi di troppe qualità per essere buoni attori cinematografici, nulla vollero fare per acquistarle. Ben vengano, dunque, giovani e nuovi discepoli, all’arte muta e giovane…: i vecchi poltriscano!
Roma, Gennaio 1911

Immagini e testi: Archivio In Penombra, Media History Digital Library, The British Newspaper Archive.

Cinematografia Italiana ed Estera Gennaio 1911

Cinema Rivista cinematografica quindicinale, Napoli 1911
Il 5 gennaio 1911 esce il primo numero della rivista Cinema, direttore Alfredo Morvillo, direzione e amministrazione, Molo piccolo 8, Napoli.

Les Danses Silhouettes
Les Établissements Gaumont toujours à la recherche du progrès viennent d’éditer un film des plus artistiques: les danses silhouettes de Mlle Hippolyta d’Hellas.
Le procédé ordinairement employé en cinématographie consiste à reproduire les sujets avec tous les détails de lumière et d’ombre. Les Silhouettes, au contraire représentent les images dans une teinte uniformément noir, dont les contours seuls se détachent sur un fond clair.
C’est le procedé employé jadis dans la décoration des poteries anciennes et plus récemment dans les théâtres d’ombres. Appliqué au cinématographe avec tous des perfectionnements; sur impressions et éclairage variés, il donne des résultats merveilleux.
Mlle Hippolyta d’Hellas qui s’est spécialisée dans la reconstitution des dances antiques a bien voulu prêter son concours è la reproduction de trois tableaux différents:
1° Le sacrifice à Pallas Athéna, déesse de la beauté des arts et de la prudence guerrière chez les Grecs.
2° Le réveil.
3° Fantasie orientale.
Les danses sacrés chez les Grecs se faisaient sur un rythme lent et religieux avec des inflexions de corps du plus gracieux effect. C’était comme une prière vivante de tout l’être s’élevant dans des gestes suppliants vers la divinité.
Il semble que la reproduction en silhouettes, en dégageant les personnages de tous les détails de costumes, fasse mieux valoir que tout autre la souplesse incomparable et la grâce lascive des mouvements.
Le Réveil, jolie composition où les nymphes éveillant leurs compagnes les appellent pour saluer la lumière, rappelle una bande célèbre que les habitués des théâtres Gaumont n’ant pas encore oubliée.
La Fantasie Orientale, sorte de danse des poignards dans un mouvement endiablé, complète cette très artistique série de danses qui recevra, nous en sommes certains, di grand public épris d’art et de nouveauté, l’approbation qu’elle mérite.
S. Le Tourneur

film Pathé
Bande Pathé Frères Exhibition Interdite en France en Suisse (Archivio In Penombra)

La Compagnie Générale de Phonographes, Cinématographes et Appareils de Précision (Anciens Établissements Pathé Frères) met en garde la clientèle, Messieurs les Exploitants et Messieurs les Loueurs, contre certaines vues dont elle fait l’édition à titre exclusif, notamment les vues de sa marque Pathé Frères, offertes venant de l’étranger, dont l’exhibition est interdite en France, ainsi qu’ils pourront facilement s’en rendre compte dans le cas où ils passeront outre, car ces vues, sur toute la longueur, portant en manchette: « Exhibition interdite en France, en Suisse, en Belgique ».
La compagnie fait toutes ses réserves dans le cas où elle apprendrait qu’une ou plusieurs de ses vues passent dans un Établissement quelconque, et au besoin des poursuites seront exercées à ce sujet.

Didone abbandonata (S. A. Ambrosio, 1910) from Cineteca MNC on Vimeo.

Parmi les grands sujets de l’Antiquité légendaire dignes de tenter le bon goût dramatique de la maison Ambrosio, l’histoire de Didon, jusque là inédite au cinématographe, s’offrait particulièrement attrayante. Ce n’était pas là mince entreprise, car le metteur en scène, guidé par la poésie majestueuse de Virgile, se devait à lui-même de ne pas trahir son modèle et de faire œuvre vraiment artistique. Disons tout de suite che M. Ambrosio y a triomphé et que le nouveau chef-d’œuvre ouvre solennellement l’année 1911.
Les décors y sont traités avec une splendeur et un pittoresque auxquels les films Ambrosio doivent leur prestige. Les costumes y sont variés, riches et conformes aux rares données historiques de l’époque. Quant à l’action, très clairement conduite, elle nous montre en une série de tableaux harmonieux  et dramatiques, les progrès d’une passion fatale inspirée à la reine Didon par le fameux héros troyen Enée, fils d’Anchise et fondateur de Rome, selon quelque tradition. Eperdue d’amour, la malheureuse Didon oublie des devoirs de reine et, finalement abandonnée par celui qu’elle croyait s’attacher, n’a recours que dans le suicide. Elle meurt consumée par les flammes du bûcher.
Interpretation puissante, photographie irréprochable; choix excellent des paysages; mouvements de foules, défilés et cortèges… toute l’œuvre est réussie.
Très gros succès assuré.

Roma, 15 gennaio. In questi giorni le Case Cinematografiche sembra abbiano fatto a gara nel produrre delle films d’arte, che tanto nella parte scenica, come nell’interpretazione dei singoli personaggi, sono riuscite interessanti e del massimo effetto.
Sono meritevoli da notarsi: l’Angusta, la Morte di Camoens, la Semiramide, l’Erede, Agrippina; ma fra tutte quella che ha destato maggior interesse è stata l’Inferno, tratta dalla Divina Commedia di Dante, della Casa Helios di Velletri.

Joachim Murat From the Tavern to the Throne
The Bioscope, January 19, 1911

(Fine della prima parte)
Immagini e testi: Archivio In Penombra, Media History Digital Library, The British Newspaper Archive.