The Ploughshare (1915). Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive.

September 09, 2021 – September 23, 2021

The Museum of Modern Art

John H. Collins joined the pioneering Edison Studios as a stenographer and scenery painter in 1912.  Two years later, he had become Edison’s most advanced director, with a crisp, streamlined style quite divorced from the Victorian stage trappings that still stuck to much of the prewar American cinema.  But his career was tragically cut short when he died, at the age of 28, in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.  His surviving films suggest that the rapidly evolving American film industry had lost an artist of rare talent whose creativity was only beginning to blossom.

This program presents several recent digital restorations of Collins’s work drawn from MoMA’s unique collection of Edison negatives. Musical accompaniment composed and performed by Ben Model.

Making a Convert (1914) Collins’s easy grace is already apparent in his first solo directing effort, a one-reel public service film warning New Jersey residents to stay out of the way of oncoming streetcars that becomes a beguiling romantic comedy.

The Last of the Hargroves (1914) Gertrude McCoy, a lanky Southern beauty who was one of Edison’s most popular stars, plays a mountain girl who helps end an a generational feud between two families.

The Portrait in the Attic (1915) Attached to the memory of her late mother, a young girl refuses to acknowledge her father’s new wife.  This one-reeler was one of Collins’s first films with Viola Dana, an Edison star who later became his wife and most frequent collaborator.

What Could She Do? (1914) Suddenly orphaned, a Southern belle finds herself without a place in the world, until she discovers a talent for undercover police work.  Gertrude McCoy wrote and stars in this three-reel production, which Edison – still reluctant to enter the new market for multiple-reel “feature” films – designed to be shown either in one go or as three one-reel chapters (of which, alas, only the first two survive).

The Slavey Student (1915) Another Edison proto-feature, this three-reeler combines boarding school comedy and melodramatic redemption.  Viola Dana stars as an orphaned teenager working her way through an exclusive girls’ school contending with the romantic entanglements of her fellow students and a brother in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

The Ploughshare (1915) The novelistic ambitions of Mary Imlay Taylor’s screenplay run up against the awkward, short-lived format of the four-reel feature with a densely plotted melodrama about love, betrayal, and politics in the old South.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, Department of Film

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, and the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation.