Life is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri
Directed by Mariusz Kotowski
Featuring interviews with Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach, A.C. Lyles, Alfred Allan Lewis, Jeanine Basinger, Anthony Slide, Emily Leider, David Gasten, Scott Eyman
Narrated by Cyndi Williams
Produced by Heidi Hutter / Bright Shining City Productions
Running time: 89 minutes
About the Documentary
The legendary film star Pola Negri makes her triumphant return to screen in Life is a Dream in Cinema, a feature-length documentary examining the Life and work of the celebrated actress.
The poster in the DVD/poster package that features the Life is a Dream in Cinema DVD.
Pola Negri’s place in cinema history cannot be underestimated, as she was the beginning of many firsts in the movies. This list of accomplishments includes 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 is also remembered for her off-screen love affairs with Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino and, in fact, was Valentino’s lover at the time of this premature death in 1926.
Life is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri brings the story of this great actress back to Life with clips of her films, photographs of the star from throughout her Life, recollections of the people who knew her, and interviews with people who have made a study of her Life and times. The film made its screen debut in 2006, and has been shown in prestigious venues such as La Cinémathèque Française in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Actors Hayley Mills and Eli Wallach, both well-known film stars in their own right, performed with Pola in The Moon-spinners (1964), her final film, and appear in the documentary. Many other experts in their fields shared a wealth of knowledge and insights about Pola, including: 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 Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise.
Review of Life is a Dream in Cinema documentary
by David Gasten
After four years of festival screenings, including high-profile appearances at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Pola Negri’s own documentary, Life is a Dream in Cinema has finally made it to DVD as part of a DVD/poster package! The wait has been long, but it has been worth it.
Life is a Dream in Cinema is lovingly produced and directed by independent film director Mariusz Kotowski. Kotowski began his career as a dancer and dance choreographer before transitioning into directing movies. Kotowski’s award-winning films like Esther’s Diary and Deeper and Deeper have progressively earned him respect because their portrayals are decidedly atypical of the standard Hollywood or indie fare, and cleverly mix different film approaches into a cohesive whole. Life is a Dream in Cinema is a fitting opener for a rare director who truly is following in the footsteps of the classic-era stars and directors he idolizes, and creating a recognizably unique body of work in a era when when it seems as though everything has already been done.
Life is a Dream in Cinema opens with narrator Cyndi Williams recalling the magic of classic era movie stars, as portraits of these stars flash on the screen. The portraits then move to the silent era, and then zero in on Pola the Star. Pola’s role as a star remains the theme throughout the movie. As the movie rolls on, Pola’s star becomes more personal and loveable, but remains larger-than-Life as it always was. She is a star, but a star that you can reach out and touch with your hand-and a star you can fall in love with.
Life is a Dream in Cinema takes the role of a black-and-white movie that dissolves into color from time to time before returning to its black-and-white home base. There is even a filmed Tango scene in which three tangoing couples dancing to Pola’s “Tango Notturno” (the title track of one of her German talkie movies) remains in black and white in keeping with the rest of the movie. Life is a Dream in Cinema also features black and white clips from a number of Pola Negri’s movies. Even though the source material of these prints varies in quality and a great number of them are not as strong as they could be, they still convey Pola’s adorably human and yet larger-than-Life presence regardless of the source quality of the material.
Probably one of the best findings presented in Life is a Dream in Cinema is Pola’s correct birth date, which had been debated and uncertain for many years. Director Kotowski was born and raised in Poland, and currently lives in the United States. He used his familiarity with both cultures to his advantage by researching Polish language sources in Warsaw and Pola’s birth city of Lipno in Poland. This led him to uncovering Pola Negri’s Polish birth certificate, which is shown in the documentary and reveals a birth date of January 3, 1897. The initial belief was that she may have been born on December 31 of 1894 or 1897, and even we at Polanegri.com had reported the incorrect 1894 date. Life is a Dream in Cinema settles the date once and for all, eliminating the need for any further debate on the subject. In addition to a look at Pola’s birth certificate, we get to see her parents’ marriage certificate, the Imperial Ballet academy in Poland where Pola studied dance and acting, and the places where Pola lived and stayed throughout her Life.
The two dramatic portions of the film, the tango and the rose petal sequences, are shot in an exquisite way that recalls the glamour of the classic era of movie making. The “rose petal story” from Pola’s affair with Rudolph Valentino that Pola tells in her autobiography Memoirs of a Star (1970) is one of the most remembered stories from that book. When film historian William K. Everson wrote his original review of the book for the New York Times in 1970, he mentioned, “Valentino may…strew their bed with [rose] blossoms–but Miss Negri maintains a discreet slow-fade-out-slow-fade-in device in describing their nights of bliss.” Life is a Dream in Cinema recreates the visual of the rose petals on the bed, with Memoirs of a Star’s ghostwriter retelling the story. Like the book, the movie’s recreation also lets the viewer’s mind fill in the details.
The biggest upside of the movie is the extensive recollections of the legendary actors Hayley Mills and Eli Wallach, who both appeared with Pola in the 1964 Disney movie The Moon-Spinners. Pola’s scene-stealing appearance in that movie was filmed over the course of two weeks in London, and both actors appeared with Pola in that final onscreen appearance. Although the two actors’ experience with Pola was brief, the strength of Pola’s star seemed to even dwarf their own stars, and the experience of working with Pola left an indelible impression on both of them. This documentary is the only place you will get to hear them retell that fascinating story, which alone makes the documentary worth the purchase price.
Pola’s legacy has fallen into incredibly good hands with Mariusz Kotowski and the Life is a Dream in Cinema documentary. When Kotowski was working on the documentary, he told me that he felt almost as if Pola were keeping him accountable from beyond the grave to treat her legacy well. His love for Pola has guided him in presenting a documentary that openly adores and respects Pola as an actress and as a lady. Kotowski does not deify Pola, nor does he revel in scandal-mongering “you can’t libel the dead” deconstructionism. Life is a Dream in Cinema works not only as a great crash course for learning about the great actress, but also place where you can get to know Pola and fall in love with her yourself.
About the Director:
MARIUSZ KOTOWSKI – Director, Bright Shining City Productions
Mariusz Kotowski is an award-winning director whose credits include the films Deeper and Deeper and Esther’s Diary. The Polish-born director completed Life is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri in 2006, investing three years of work and a considerable personal fortune into bringing this documentary to the screen. His production company, Bright Shining City Productions, can be reached at: