John H. Collins - Wow!

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Lokke Heiss

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John H. Collins - Wow!

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 8:25 am

Just returning from Pordenone, and one of the hits of the festival was the screening of John Collins's films, including Blue Jeans and Girl Without a Soul. If someone told me that I still hadn't heard of a great American filmmaker who was on the level of Griffith, or at least in the conversation regarding the top 3 or so American directors of that era, i would have said something like: Hah! I don't believe you. But that's what happened. I did a poll of my friends last night, and we all named Girl Without a Soul as our favorite film of the week. Great acting, pace is terrific, script good - and it feels like a film made ten years late, say around 1926, and in some ways even ten years after that.

But I had barely heard of the name, and couldn't tell you a thing about what he had done until this week.

Just goes to show the 'Canon' is not a list of the best films ever made, just a list of very good films that also got a little lucky.

So can the group mind out there tell me how many of his films are available, and offer clues about why he is so ignored in film history (besides the obvious one about him dying so young)?
"You can't top pigs with pigs."

Walt Disney, responding to someone who asked him why he didn't immediately do a sequel to The Three Little Pigs
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Mike Gebert

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 9:06 am

I know that William K. Everson esteemed Collins— whatever I know probably comes from American Silent Film— but he was best-known for films he made with his wife, Viola Dana, who's remembered but isn't one of those stars who gets everyone here excited today like, say, Colleen Moore. So for whatever reasons of the films and their availability, his reputation is more heard about than shared, yes. The only film of his I've seen is The Cossack Whip.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Lokke Heiss

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 9:14 am

Viola Dana was his wife and muse, all the feature films screened had her as the lead, and she's terrific. Whip was screened, beginning and end were excellent in that film, which sagged with a silly middle.

Everson was right. Collins IS that good. Now I've got to see what's out there. There are scenes in these films where you watch something and go - "wait, that was a John Ford moment." But not a John Ford in his early silent days, but a John Ford moment from 1938.
Last edited by Lokke Heiss on Sun Oct 09, 2016 9:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
"You can't top pigs with pigs."

Walt Disney, responding to someone who asked him why he didn't immediately do a sequel to The Three Little Pigs
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David Denton

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 9:25 am

CHILDREN OF EVE (1915) was released by KINO on THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE & other Tales of Vice and Redemption
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bobfells

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 10:01 am

Kevin Brownlow's series HOLLYWOOD pays tribute to Collins in (I think) the first episode and offers clips from a one or two of his films. The tragedy of a talent who died young (the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1917-18).
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David Denton

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 10:37 am

The George Kleine Collection at LOC has several Edisons, a few directed by Collins: THE COSSACK WHIP, mentioned previously, THE INNOCENCE OF RUTH (1916 with Dana) and THE MISSION OF MR. FOO (1915) with Carlton King. I remember watching TMOMF in my teens, a Blackhawk from the local library.
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avance

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostSun Oct 09, 2016 3:50 pm

I am also just back from Pordenone and second that Wow!

Not just for Collins but also for the excellent Viola Dana. Both deserve to much better known.

It's well worth reading the introduction by Jay Weissberg and Paolo Cherchi Usai to the section in this year's catalogue which you will find here.

http://www.cinetecadelfriuli.org/gcm/

Amran
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Mike Gebert

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostWed Oct 12, 2016 9:48 pm

I didn't remember that I had a John H. Collins film I had never seen until David Denton above mentioned that Children of Eve (1915) was on the Kino Devil's Needle release.

The plot of this Viola Dana film is something out of a revival sermon circa 1870, crossed with the quantity of coincidences in Les Miserables. A divinity student meets "a girl from the Follies" (she lives next door, a la Lonesome), they fall in love but she knows she'd be bad for his career as a minister so she sacrifices herself and has her baby in secret before dying. Meanwhile he winds up with another adopted kid, a young male ward. Fast forward 15 years and the baby is "Fifty-fifty Mamie" (wait, she's only 15? Doesn't seem to be the case) and the ward (now the silent actor Robert Walker, a frequent co-star for Dana and straight out of an Arrow shirt ad) is also a preacher or something, though Dad has done a 180 and become a heartless industrialist. Mamie is slowly converted to the straight and narrow, though the ward seems to get TB or something from consorting with the underclass, and Mamie takes on an assignment to go undercover at Dad's cannery— which leads to, I suspect, the incident that in reality the entire plot was retrofitted to, a big factory fire a la the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911.

Anyway, doesn't necessarily sound like the sort of thing they could have pulled off fully in 1915. But if the plot is, as Bob & Ray would say, a Messy production, Collins' direction keeps us clear on the emotions in each scene—we are rarely in doubt what anyone is thinking, even if the precise plot details are a tad murky in a few spots. Performances are subtle and nuanced; there are levels to how these characters think and respond, they're not just stick figures moving the plot along as can often be the case in films of this vintage. So I agree that Collins' handling of incident and his actors is unusually strong for the era, peeling away the veil that often seems to hang between us and performers of early cinema.

Print quality is generally good and consistent, though a bit soft at points. The score by Rodney Sauer, part original and part using movie music of the era, is excellent, sensitive to scenes and fitting in its overall tone.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostMon Oct 17, 2016 6:00 pm

By unusual coincidence, I just re-watched CHILDREN OF EVE last night on Kino's great Blu-ray set "The Devil's Needle and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption." I kept missing screenings at Cinefests and Cinesations, and finally got to see it when the Blu-ray came out. Since then I've watched it several times, and the well-directed Dickensian story always holds up well, especially for a 1915 production from the Edison studio. Here's what I wrote about it back when the Blu-ray was released a few years ago...

CHILDREN OF EVE (1915) 73m *** ½
The best film on the disc may have a title rather less marketable as an exploitation picture than its two companions, but is easily the most dramatically powerful of the three in its exposure of a major social concern of its time -- child labor and dangerous factory conditions -- while also treating issues of poverty, health care, illegitimacy, prostitution, alcoholism, and honest social reformers. Equally remarkable is the fact that CHILDREN OF EVE is a product of the Thomas Edison Studio, often regarded as a conservative bastion of primitive filmmaking techniques, crude acting, and safe commercial formulas. This is partly because so few of its films, especially its features, have been available and partly because the company gave up movie production after 1918 just as the major Hollywood studios were emerging to dominate the world market. The more Edison films are rediscovered, the more the studio’s poor reputation is becoming revised. While some live up to their stodgy expectations, others are the equal of better-known directors and studios. THE CHILDREN OF EVE, one of several impressive pictures by John Collins, is definitely an example of the latter, even if some of the acting has a distinctly theatrical flair. Collins was a prolific writer-director for Edison whose surviving films indicate a strong command of cinematic storytelling. Tragically, most of his more than two dozen films are lost, but even more tragically his career ended when he died during the 1918 flu epidemic, still only in his twenties.

The first reel of CHILDREN OF EVE is set in the late 1890s, and its leisurely, simple and sentimental melodrama set largely in two adjoining apartment rooms might make a viewer anticipate that the film will be one of the lesser Edison titles, with little indication of the complexly plotted melodrama to come throughout the following hour. While this section might be shortened or even watched separately as a self-contained one-reeler, it serves as a useful dramatized prologue for the rest of the film, setting up the final scene better than a simple explanatory title. An impoverished college student named Henry Clay Madison (Robert Conness) ekes out a living as a clerk and lives next door to a disillusioned aging chorus girl named Flossie Wilson (Nellie Grant) who bitterly recalls her lost innocence. Hoping at first to reform her, Madison soon falls in love, but Flossie is too ashamed of her past to marry him and hold back his career. She leaves him heartbroken, and shortly after having her baby, dies on a slum doorstep just as Madison has finally made good and coincidentally agrees to raise the young son of a dying friend, never realizing he now has a daughter of his own.

The plot picks up seventeen years later with the baby girl now a hardened slum teen known as “Fifty-Fifty Mamie” (Viola Dana) keeping company with a middle-aged small-time crook (Thomas F. Blake) and frequenting a tavern called “The Bucket of Blood.” Madison has become a wealthy but ruthless and callous factory owner with a beard that makes him look very much like popularly reviled industrialist Henry Clay Frick (the name obviously no coincidence, and Frick was still alive at the time the film was made). Ironically the young boy Bert he raised as a son, now in his 20s (Robert Walker), spends his time as an idealistic social worker in the very slum where Mamie lives. Of course Bert has to meet and reform Mamie and they fall for each other, but when Bert falls sick, Madison does not want a person of her class associating with the boy lest she drag him down to her level (essentially the same argument Flossie had given Madison for not marrying him). After her old boyfriend kills a cop, Mamie vows to go straight for good, and agrees to work undercover at one of Madison’s factories to investigate working conditions. At this point comes the memorable recreation of the notorious 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, with Mamie severely injured and Madison finally discovering her true identity. CHILDREN OF EVE, however, does not stoop to the pat, saccharine Hollywood ending that would become the norm within just a few years.

Originally released in November of 1915, CHILDREN OF EVE is a vivid portrait of 1910s city life and attitudes by a young and vibrant director reaching the creative prime of his all-too-brief career. Effective editing, notably the use of close-ups and cutaways, intensifies details and helps reduce the need for intertitles. It also often calls attention to ironic parallels in a style usually attributed to D. W. Griffith, but obviously in common use by this time. One notable such sequence depicts Madison’s elegant luncheon contrasting with his child factory employees on their lunch break, only moments before the factory will catch fire. Dissolved-in double exposures frequently indicate flashbacks or one character thinking about another character. Another nice touch, calling to mind D. W. Griffith’s THE MOTHER AND THE LAW (already in production but not yet released -- so who influenced whom, or was it parallel story geniuses cuing into the same observations of everyday life?), has the camera linger on a little girl after Mamie leaves with her boyfriend, showing her mimicking Mamie’s showy and seductive manner of walking. Another unusual aspect for movies at this time is that the costumes in the 1890s segment are fairly accurate, and obviously from an earlier time period than the contemporary 1915-era costumes in the bulk of the film. The film’s acting may be stylized, some of it indeed very broad by the standards already developing as the norm, but it is always intensely sincere. Once again the skillful blend of numerous location exteriors (from streets to rooftops) with the studio shots gives the film a gritty realistic edge that would rarely be seen again until Italian neorealism in the 40s and the American “street films” of the 1950s and 60s. Likewise the socially conscious subject matter would soon go out of fashion in Hollywood films for the next half-century.

Luckily the film seems reasonably complete and picture quality on CHILDREN OF EVE is good, with some moderate but rarely distracting wear, and no nitrate decomposition to speak of. However, the transfer seems slightly soft-focus through many scenes, undoubtedly a product of the original photo-chemical preservation to safety film, as there is sometimes a faint moving double-image like the film is unsteady in the gate. Some sections are extremely sharp but it’s just not as crisp an image overall as the good sections of THE DEVIL’S NEEDLE or all of THE INSIDE OF THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC (which both have their own problems). Nevertheless it’s good enough that its clarity might amaze anyone who has never seen a 1910s silent movie in anything but a fuzzy contrasty dupe. Again there’s a wonderful music score by Rodney Sauer, this time sometimes also incorporating a trumpet, cello, and accordion besides the dominant piano. Particularly entertaining are the night club scenes with the music synched to the barroom musicians (although the lack of a drum on the soundtrack is slightly disconcerting). There is some discussion of THE CHILDREN OF EVE in the enclosed pamphlet, but in addition there’s a fascinating eight-minute outtake reel of raw footage from the climactic fire sequence (including the slate numbers), which used a real abandoned warehouse that was burnt down for the movie. Most of the shots were not used in the final cut, some probably felt to be an impediment to the main dramatic action (such as fire engines rushing to the scene and setting up), and others perhaps considered too disturbing (such as bodies falling from above past people scurrying down a fire escape).

CHILDREN OF EVE on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A-
Audio: A
Extras: C+
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telical

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostMon Oct 17, 2016 8:04 pm

In looking around for more information, I found this interesting site:

http://lostmediawiki.com/The_Skywayman_ ... tage;_1920)

It describes a plane crash during filmaking that killed two, which Viola Dana witnessed.

It describes various types of lost media, including films
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Ann Harding

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostTue Oct 18, 2016 4:46 am

The CNC in Bois d'Arcy has an incomplete print of Flower of the Dusk (1918). I reviewed it on my blog. What is left is definitely impressive.
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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostWed Apr 12, 2017 3:59 pm

If memory serves, Collins is also praised in James Card's Seductive Cinema. Here's the clip from Blue Jeans used in Kevin Brownlow's Hollywood:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaKzQAOuSZA


The Pordenone catalog entry on Collins (http://www.cinetecadelfriuli.org/gcm/allegati/GCM2016_Catalogo_w.pdf, page 92) is incredibly tantalizing, since none of Collin's films, aside from Children of Eve, are available even as gray-market DVDs, let alone bootlegs.

The American Silent Feature Film Database lists the archives which hold Collins's surviving features:

Children Of Eve (1915), George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress
The Ploughshare (1915), Museum Of Modern Art
The Cossack Whip (1916), George Eastman Museum, Library of Congress, National Archives Of Canada
The Innocence Of Ruth (1916), Library of Congress
Blue Jeans (1917), George Eastman Museum, Danish Film Institute, Harvard Film Archive
The Girl Without A Soul (1917), George Eastman Museum
A Wife By Proxy (1917), MGM
Flower Of The Dusk (1918), Archives du Film du CNC
Opportunity (1918), George Eastman Museum
Riders Of The Night (1918), EYE Filmmuseum (incomplete)

Perhaps we could set up a kickstarter for the LOC films?
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Reason: Embedd YouTube link
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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostFri Apr 14, 2017 6:34 pm

I once saw a beautiful print of "Girl Without a Soul" at the PFA with Jon Mirsalis on piano. I was very moved by the picture. I've requested Cinecon to show it over the years but they never have.(At least not since 1993 or so.) Viola Dana was honored once at the PFA. I believe it was in the early to mid 1970's.
Randy
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dalefullerfan2014

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Re: John H. Collins - Wow!

PostFri Apr 14, 2017 8:18 pm

Viola Dana's performance and Collins direction were such a revelation for me that I really wanted more people to experience the film. I had hoped that Cinecon would screen it and who knows? Maybe they still will. More people have to see this film.
Randy
PS, Jon's accompaniment was very good also. Another film that I saw Jon play for that really moved me is the Paramount 1922 "Back Pay" with Seena Owen & Matt Moore directed by Frank Borzage. Another film that needs to be seen by more people. Fortunately it's original titles survive and our a treat to see and add a lot to the film.

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