Fall 2021

Melodrama and the shock of the new

By: Joanne Shattock, Joanne Wilkes, Katherine Newey, Valerie Sanders

in Literary and Cultural Criticism from the Nineteenth Century


The most significant dramatic innovation of the nineteenth century was the naturalisation of melodrama into the English theatre. English melodrama was made out of French revolutionary politics and the populist art of melo-drame – literally ‘music-play’ – adapted so as to evade censorship of the Lord Chamberlain and his Examiner of Plays. The radicalism of the play’s structure of feeling, its production and communication of highly emotional states, linked to oppression and power, did not escape the observers and critics of the period. Baillie’s theorising on strong emotion resonates with contemporary Romantic discourse but also prefigures the discussions and theorisations of the place of emotion in acting which were threaded through critical discourse on the stage throughout the nineteenth century.

Whiteface Marionettes: John Huston’s Comic Melodrama

by Stacy I. Morgan

in Frankie and Johnny: Race, Gender, and the Work of African American Folklore in 1930s America

About this book

Originating in a homicide in St. Louis in 1899, the ballad of “Frankie and Johnny” became one of America’s most familiar songs during the first half of the twentieth century. It crossed lines of race, class, and artistic genres, taking form in such varied expressions as a folk song performed by Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly); a ballet choreographed by Ruth Page and Bentley Stone under New Deal sponsorship; a mural in the Missouri State Capitol by Thomas Hart Benton; a play by John Huston; a motion picture, She Done Him Wrong, that made Mae West a national celebrity; and an anti-lynching poem by Sterling Brown. In this innovative book, Stacy I. Morgan explores why African American folklore—and “Frankie and Johnny” in particular—became prized source material for artists of diverse political and aesthetic sensibilities. He looks at a confluence of factors, including the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, and resurgent nationalism, that led those creators to engage with this ubiquitous song. Morgan’s research uncovers the wide range of work that artists called upon African American folklore to perform in the 1930s, as it alternately reinforced and challenged norms of race, gender, and appropriate subjects for artistic expression. He demonstrates that the folklorists and creative artists of that generation forged a new national culture in which African American folk songs featured centrally not only in folk and popular culture but in the fine arts as well.

Ang Lee’s Tears: Digital Global Melodrama in The Wedding Banquet, Hulk, and Gemini Man
By Jane Hu
in Verge: Studies in Global Asias Vol. 7, No. 2

Over the past three decades, the Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee has risen on the world stage by taking up a range of vernacular film genres while increasingly mobilizing an array of digital filmmaking techniques. From Lee’s debut Taiwanese arthouse films to Sense and Sensibility to subsequent Hollywood Westerns, CGI superhero blockbusters, and action thrillers, the diasporic filmaker’s body of work has become difficult to classify in terms of both genre and geopolitics. As Lee continues to explore new digital effects filmmaking, his later work appears to depart from his initial Taiwanese indies, which prominently featured Chinese characters in Chinese plots. If anything, these ongoing technological experimentations often imply the distortion or deconstruction of “authentic” bodies that once marked his earlier work. Lee’s most recent two films, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) and Gemini Man (2019), for instance, were not only explicitly marketed as high-tech digital productions featuring spectacular visual effects; they were also implicitly marketed without any discernibly Chinese characters.

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