Friday, 14 October 2011

New Negri vehicle opens in London to rave review! … Mania (1918)

Last night I attended the UK premier of Mania starring Pola Negri. The film, full title Mania, The History of a Cigarette Factory Worker, was made in 1918 and was believed lost for almost a century…rediscovered and expertly restored, it was presented with much fanfare at the Barbican.

A short film showed how the restoration had painstakingly been completed, with firm adherence to the rules of film restoration - no digital cheating allowed here. Then the Polish cultural attaché and president of the Filmoteka Narodowa took turns in introducing a film that not only showcases the strength of Poland’s greatest movie star but also the technical skills of what was a Hungarian/German/Polish co-production…highly appropriate given Poland’s new position as President of the Council of the European Union.

This combined with a receptive and well informed full-house audience, created a mood of genuine excitement as we witnessed the first ever showing of this film in the UK…just 93 years after it was made.

The Polish pride in this reassertion of the power of one of cinema’s primordial brands was clear with this show being one of a number of “premiers” in major cultural centres across Europe. A new score has been written by Jerzy Maksymiuk, who also conducted, as the Wrocław Leopoldinum chamber orchestra performed it with gusto and contributed greatly to the sense that we were watching this film in a wholehearted way, almost in the casual manner you would watch a contemporary movie…no deference made to age, style or soundtrack.

This effect was further supported by the amazing work done on creating a strikingly clear print; it can hardly have looked much different when the German premier was held back in November 1918.

All of this served to do real credit to the undoubted star of the evening, Ms Pola Negri herself. One of the greatest stars of this era and a name often seen more than experienced, Negri had an amazing amount to offer. I listened recently to a recording of her contemporary, Theda Bara, talking of the need to “pantomime” in the absence of sound and with largely static cameras. It reminds you of the restrictions these actors had to work under. No wonder some appear to be over emotive to modern eyes and yet with the likes of Lillian Gish and Asta Nielsen they are able to convey the story without crossing the line of exaggeration.

To these names I would add Pola Negri’s. An expressive face, soulful eyes and with a dancer’s grace…she was a master of controlled expression. Considering that she was only just 20 at the time she shows a high degree of expertise in her playing; she carries the majority of the story and is a believable presence in what could easily have been a melodramatic affair.

She plays Mania a cigarette factory worker who is picked to be the new face of their advertising. In the artist's studio where she is being painted for the campaign, Mania meets a young composer, Hans, (played by Arthur Schroder) with whom she falls in love. Mania starts to mix with the local aesthetes and at one of their, splendidly realised, parties, she encounters the hawkish Morelli (Werner Hollmann... with menace!) who is a wealthy patron of the arts.

Entranced by Mania’s dancing, Morelli determines to have her for himself. He prevents Hans’ opera from being performed and Mania is forced into a dreadful choice: is she willing to sacrifice her love for Hans in order to help him succeed?

There are twists and turns as the tale resolves itself in the most dramatic of circumstances. I won’t tell you how because you’ll want to experience this “new release” all for yourselves in your local cinemateque!

This felt like a recognisably modern movie and proof of the fact that the medium was really hitting its stride by the end of the Great War. Directed by Hungarian Eugen Illés, there are some great close ups, outdoor shots and excellent overall visual cohesion. This is helped by superb scenic design by one Paul Leni, famous later for directing expressionist classics such as Waxworks and art directing many more.

A very polished (sorry no pun intended) and enjoyable performance all round. Maybe not a great film but still a real gem pulled off with verve by a genuine star of transcendent quality.

Watch out for this Negri girl she’s going places!

Catch Mania on its tour - there are details and also a brief trailer on the Filmoteka Narodowa website. Then join me in waiting for its DVD release next year!?


  1. Very exciting! I am a huge Pola fan and really appreciate this post!

  2. Thanks very much Marsha! Hope his gets a more widespread cinema release soon - Pola is one of the greats!

  3. Very interesting and enlightening ( although unfortunately not aristocratic...) review!; "Die Organizationen" will try to get a private copy of "Mania" in order to be showed at the Schloss theater because obviously a genuine and full of whims German count can't wait such a long time for the modernen disc release, not to mention the fact that a German count NEVER move in certain places as a commoner cinema certainly is...

  4. Dank edler Graf! Ich frage Fräulein Negri Mitarbeiter um einen Besichtigungstermin für Sie in Ihrem Schloss zu arrangieren. Sie werden in Verbindung mit der richtigen Kanäle.

    Ihr ergebener Diener

    Arthur von Askey