Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wenn das Herz in Hass erglüht

Vampa d'odio / [When the Heart Glows with Hate]. DE 1918. PC: Saturn-Film AG (Berlin). D: Kurt Matull; DP: Otto Jäger; CAST: Pola Negri (Ilya Vörösz), Harry Hopkins (Hopkins, the circus director), Hans Adalbert Schlettow (Count von Hohenau), Magnus Stifter (Baron Ilfingen), Anna von Palen (Baroness Ilfingen, his mother), Tilli Bébé (Lydia Bébé); date of censorship: 1.11.1917; 983 m /16 fps/ 53 min; from: Cineteca Nazionale, Roma. Didascalie in italiano. E-subtitles in English, grand piano: John Sweeney. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 6 Oct 2009. - From the GCM Catalogue: "This film – which had been distributed in Italy as Vampa d’odio following Pola Negri’s rise to super-stardom – was first shown at the Giornate del Cinema Muto in 1994, when it was confidently but incorrectly identified as a Polish production, Jego ostatni zyn (1917). Only in 2008, thanks to the Polish historians Marek and Malgorzata Hendrykowski, was its true identity established. In 1994, also, the Giornate celebrated the centenary of one of Negri’s several reputed birthdates, though in fact she seems to have been born in 1897, as Apolonia Chalupiec, in Lipno, Poland. Like with most of the great superstars, her childhood was hard. Her father, a Slovak tinsmith, was exiled to Siberia, leaving his wife to raise their daughter in extreme poverty in Warsaw. Nevertheless she was given a place in the Warsaw Ballet School, until tuberculosis interrupted her dance education. It is a happy coincidence, for the centenary year of the Ballets Russes, that in 1908, on the night that Karsavina danced Swan Lake at Warsaw’s Wielki Theatre, the young Pola made her debut as one of the cygnets.Still in her teens, she found work in the theatre, and at 17 appeared in her first film. She was to make at least a dozen films in Poland, adopting the name Pola Negri, suggested by that of the Italian poetess, Ada Negri. Her beauty and charisma quickly drew international attention and in 1917 she was brought to Berlin by the Saturn film company. In little more than a year she was recognized by Lubitsch, and their films together rapidly made her an international star. In 1922 she was taken by Paramount to Hollywood. Her romances with Chaplin and Valentino made headlines, but she finally married Prince Serge Mdivani, whose brother was the husband of Mae Murray. With the coming of sound, Negri’s accent was against her, and from 1929 she worked in Europe (including Nazi Germany). In 1941 she returned to the United States, and in 1951 adopted American citizenship. She angrily declined the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Pola Negri died in 1987 in San Antonio, Texas.
Wenn das Herz in Haß erglüht (When the Heart Glows with Hate) finds her, at 21 years old, the diva supreme, fully fledged and wholly self-conscious. Beautiful, with astonishing, mascara’d eyes, the unique quality which sets her apart from her contemporary dive is her movement. She is always the dancer, as the director Kurt Matull intelligently appreciates, giving her extended scenes where she gathers roses in the garden, or simply moves around her apartment, to show off her balletic flow. In dramatic scenes, her body as well as her face are fiercely expressive: her head thrusts forward hungrily in seduction; she freezes in an undesired embrace; or commands rapt attention simply toying with a cigarette. Matull gives her the diva’s ultimate prop and partner – a large writhing snake, with which she dances, or affectionately embraces. This snake finally has a crucial role in the drama: as the intertitle says, “The snake saves its charmer.”
The director Kurt Matull is an obscure figure in German cinema history. His career in films lasted barely 6 years, from 1914 to 1920, during which time he made some 20 films for various companies, before abruptly disappearing from the record. Saturn seem to have hired him specifically to direct Negri, with whom he made 5 films: Die toten Augen (1917), Nicht lange täuschte mich das Glück (1917), Rosen, die der Sturm entblättert (1917), Wenn das Herz in Haß erglüht (1918), and Küsse, die man stiehlt im Dunkeln (1918). It seems safe to assume that he was the same Kurt Matull (1872-1930?) who is better known as a pulp-fiction writer, the creator of a long Nick Carter series and of the Lord Lister series (1908-1911).
The surviving version of the film shown by the Giornate is from an Italian distribution print, with Italian intertitles and some changed character names. Negri’s character, Ilya Vörösz in the original, becomes Hilka; the villainous Count von Hohenau becomes Holfer.
The first reel and two brief fragments are missing from the print, but the story, despite the sparing intertitles, remains quite comprehensible. The missing opening scenes would have established Ilya/Hilka as a snake dancer, the star performer in Hopkins’ circus. Jealous of Hopkins’ amorous interest in Ilya/Hilka, Lydie Bébé, the alligator handler, plots to get rid of her, and is successful when Baron Ilfingen takes llya/Hilka under his protection and arranges an audition for her as a dancer at the Palm Garden club. In the first of the other missing fragments, Hohenhau/Holfer and Hopkins discussed their plot to undo Baron Ilfingen; in the second, Ilya/Hilka revealed to the Baron’s mother the truth about the false accusations against him. – David Robinson". - I watched just the start of this movie, and I agree with David Robinson that Pola Negri is already here "the diva supreme", in full command, with a strong sense of movement. This was the same year when Ernst Lubitsch detected Pola Negri and made her his Carmen and his best German star.

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