Collins Continues Down the Road to Perdition with Sequels, Movie Print
News/Features - Literature
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 23 November 2004 18:00
There’s no getting around it. Shades of Noir, the new film by Max Allan Collins and Phil Dingeldein, is a patchwork. “It’s a bit of a Frankenstein monster,” Collins conceded last week, “but the Frankenstein monster gets its job done. It flows really nice.”

The movie is a collection of four works, a documentary about Mickey Spillane and three shorter fiction pieces: the one-man show Ness: An Untouchable Life, A Matter of Principal, and Three Women. The origins of each piece are different, but Collins and Dingeldein felt they worked well together.

“I got to thinking there was something thematic about noir that could be said,” said Collins, who lives in Muscatine. So he wrote and Dingeldein filmed “wrap around” material to “put each film in the context of being noir,” Collins said. The movie emphasizes that while film-noir classics are often credited to their directors, they often come from great novels.

“It plays … as a whole piece,” said Dingeldein, who works out of his dphilms office in Rock Island and typically serves as director of photography for projects that Collins directs. “You could bring it into a college and use it as a class for noir.”

The backstories of the segments are interesting by themselves. Ness was thrown together to explore the possibilities of a high-definition digital-video camera, while Three Women was the result of a workshop in Des Moines in which the cast and crew had three hours to shoot an entire movie.

While film noir is typically characterized by its shadowy, moody aesthetics, the short pieces of Shades of Noir explore the narrative aspects of the genre more than the visuals, Collins said.

The 90-minute feature will have a benefit premiere on Friday at Brew & View, with screenings at 3:30, 7:30, and 9:30 p.m. Proceeds will go to the Mississippi Valley Writers Colony (formerly the Mississippi Valley Writers Conference). The film will also be included in an upcoming Troma box set of Collins/Dingeldein collaborations – including the features Mommy, Mommy 2, and Real Time.

Shades of Noir is just one of Collins’ new projects. He has a pair of just-released books, both related to his most famous work: the graphic novel Road to Perdition, which director Sam Mendes turned into a well-received summer prestige picture in 2002 starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Jude Law.

Fans of the movie or the original graphic novel (or, for that matter, the novelization, which Collins also wrote) will probably enjoy Road to Perdition 2: On the Road, a collection of three graphic novellas that expand upon the road trip undertaken by Michael O’Sullivan and his son in the original.

But the saga takes an unexpected turn with Road to Purgatory, a novel rather than a comic whose structure mimics that of the second Godfather movie – with parallel stories of father and son that bookend the narrative of Road to Perdition. And as with the Godfather trilogy, the true subject of the larger story isn’t immediately apparent; both look at the outset to be about the fathers but emerge as stories of the sons.

“This book is very much about the American dream,” Collins said of Purgatory, which he plans to follow with Road to Paradise. The Irish mob of the 20th Century is a fertile metaphor, he said. “It’s us. It’s capitalism. It’s immigrants, through just kind of a funhouse mirror. It allowed me to talk about America today in the past.”

The 56-year-old Collins acknowledges similarities between his Road series and Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather movies but also notes key differences. His stories aren’t about the guy at the center of the picture – Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano – but “the third thug from the left,” the underling. And “I use the real guys,” he stressed. “I really use real people.” Case in point: John Looney, the notorious Rock Island gangster from the early 20th Century. “I had an Irish Godfather in my backyard,” Collins said.

These two new books brought with them their fair shares of challenges, Collins said. For one thing, there was the decision about how to tell his stories. Road to Perdition, after all, has its roots in the graphic-novel genre, but because of the movie, a novel would likely be a more lucrative avenue. Collins, of course, chose both routes.

Graphic novels are by nature more action-based than traditional novels, so Purgatory as a result is “much more interior” than Perdition or its comic sequel. “I wanted to be inside some of these people,” Collins said.

And then there was the task of reconciling the movie with the original text. Although Mendes’ film was “100 percent faithful to the spirit” of the original, the author said, the plot did diverge, particularly on one key point in the climax. “I write my sequel to the graphic novel, but I try my best to make it compatible,” Collins said. His solution is definitely elegant, but I won’t spoil it. “I have a lot of fun with that,” he said.

The author refuses to complain that changes were made to his story, recognizing his good fortune. “I got Tom Hanks doing an $80-million infomercial for my work,” he said. Road to Perdition initially sold well in its first run – of 10,000 copies – but it got a huge boost from the movie, which helped generate several hundred thousand sales.

Not that Collins needs too much help talking up his work. The author/filmmaker is affable and a gifted self-promoter. When we met, he wore a jacket bearing the name of his own production company, M.A.C. Productions. He has nearly 50 books to his credit, not including novelizations of film and television works (including the popular CSI).

Collins knew that Road to Perdition might be his gravy train, and he had story outlines ready for sequels in 2001. He waited for the film to open, and when it pulled in $22 million in its opening weekend, he had publishing deals within 48 hours. He might not have made a fortune from selling the film rights to the original graphic novel – “It changed my year more than changed my life” – but the ancillary benefits have been huge, from multiplying sales of the graphic novel to creating a market for sequels to being able to put “by the author of Road to Perdition” on the cover of everything he writes hereafter. “It’s opened many doors,” Collins said.

The author hopes somebody decides to make a movie based on Purgatory – the producers of Perdition have the screen rights for roughly two years – but Collins said he’ll make the movie himself if he has to. “At this point, I’d rather somebody else make it,” he said, because of the star power and production values a major studio could bring to a film adaptation.

Dingeldein seems to have more enthusiasm for the project. “If Steven Spielberg doesn’t do it, we’ll do it,” he said.

And Collins and Dingeldein have plenty of other film projects that are waiting for one thing: money. “We’ve got six scripts we can pull the trigger on any time,” Dingeldein said. “We’re just waiting for somebody to make the investment.”

Collins has other things to get out of the way first, however. “I’m hoping to schedule a nervous breakdown next year,” he joked.

Proceeds from the screenings of Shades of Noir at Brew & View will benefit the Mississippi Valley Writers Colony, which offers conferences, workshops, and mentoring programs. A movie-memorabilia auction will be held after the 7:30 p.m. screening, and Collins will have a book signing between 5 and 7 p.m. The author will also be appearing at Borders in Davenport on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m.
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