Bestia is the oldest surviving film starring the great Pola Negri. It is also the only record we have of the Polish beginnings of her career. Bestia is one of four films the Polish company Sfinks produced with Pola Negri, the first film star of the country. Her portrayal of femmes fatales fired up audiences’ imagination, and her films became highly popular, also in Germany. The actress was quickly noticed by German production heads, and she started to work in Germany in 1917. Ernst Lubitsch directed her in four films: Madame Dubarry (1919) became a worldwide success, and Negri got a contract from Paramount. She would leave for Hollywood in 1922. The success of the German films starring Pola Negri in the American market was perceived as an opportunity by a distributor, Jesse A. Levinson, who in late 1921 bought Bestia and, after some minor edits, distributed it in the USA as The Polish Dancer. To make the film look fresh and attractive, the fact that it was a five-year-old Polish production was hidden. The publicity focused on the cast, on Pola Negri, and intentionally left out the film’s date and country of origin. Without the distribution of Bestia in the United States the film would not have survived. In Poland, all elements were lost or destroyed during the Second World War, but in New York, a nitrate print was preserved in the Museum of Modern Art. Upon the return of this element to Poland an internegative and a safety print were made that are now in the collections of the National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute. The Polish Dancer was restored in 2017 by the National Film Archive in 4K resolution. The only existing version of the film is preserved at the National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute US release print with animated English-language intertitles which were re-established in the process of restoration.
Aleksander Hertz was a director and producer born in Warsaw in 1879. He showed no interest in filmmaking in his youth. He studied engineering and worked in banking. He was also involved in politics as an activist for the Polish Socialist Party (PSP). He was exiled for sheltering PSP activists, including Józef Piłsudski. In 1908, he and some friends bought the Sphinx cinema on Marszałkowska Street in Warsaw. This investment quickly expanded, as he stablished the Sphinx Association in 1909 and began operating the first atelier in Poland in 1911. Hertz was one of the pioneers of Polish cinema. He died in 1928.
1918 Książę Józef Poniatowski
1919 Ludzie bez jutra / People with no Tomorrow
1927 Ziemia Obiecana