Monday, May 12, 2014

The First Femme Fatale

By David Luhrssen
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Pola Negri was among the bright stars of the silent era that faded in the transition to sound. In Poland, where she was born, several full-length studies have been published. Mariusz Kotowski’s Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale (University Press of Kentucky) is the first extensive English-language look at the actress to appear in many years.

The Polish-born author was surprised when he realized how forgotten Negri is in America, her adopted homeland where she made her greatest mark in movies. He is a fan and his enthusiasm is evident. He is also uncritical of his subject. For Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale, Kotowski relies mostly on Negri’s own accounts and contemporary coverage from movie fan magazines. We have to take Negri at her word about her youth and her 1930s career in Nazi Germany, where she made six films. Supposedly, Hitler was a fan.

Perhaps a scholar with the luxury of time and travel expenses will recover a fuller picture of Negri from archival sources in the U.S. and Europe, and weigh the findings against the actress' own narrative. Meanwhile, Kotowski’s chronicle is a tantalizing glimpse into the world of cultured Europeans expatriates who built careers in early 20th century-America U.S. out of an aura of the exotic. Rudolf Valentino (one of Negri’s lovers) was not alone.

 

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