Summer 2022 Articles

Divine Smells: Odorama, Melodrama, and the Body in John Waters’ Polyester

by Ido Rosen


The comedy Polyester (John Waters, 1981) introduced a new cinematic experience. The screenings were accompanied by the Odorama technique in the form of a ‘scratch and sniff’ card that was handed to viewers in the movie theater. There has yet to be a serious examination of Odorama, which is usually dismissed as nothing more than a gag. This essay shows that Odorama has sophisticated subversive qualities. It confirms scholars’ and critics’ view that Polyester was a turning point in the career of Waters, one of the most important queer filmmakers of all times. The film is frequently seen as his transition from the realm of anarchistic midnight movies to mainstream cinema. This shift was disappointing to many fans, some of whom even considered it betrayal. By contrast, it is argued here that although the film was made by a distinguished auteur, it is also a parody of classic Hollywood melodramas, and playfully adopts the genre’s conventions. Unlike Waters’ previous films, in Polyester the critical ideas are all beneath the surface. It criticizes social norms, middle class values, hypocritical and fraudulent images, ‘conventional’ families, and gender dichotomies in society and their representations in the cinema. However, this is disguised in a borrowed aesthetic, and expressed through a cunning tactic which some audiences and critics missed entirely.

Dreams, Visions and the African Melodrama

A Commentary on the Interface between Cinematography and Pentecostal Epistemology

by Anna Droll

In PentecoStudies


Pentecostal films in Africa have gained the attention of humanitarians concerned with the societal effects of witchcraft preoccupation. As well, they are of interest to anthropologists examining Spirit movements. Humanitarians address the ethical problem perceived in the Pentecostal melodrama and its narratives, while anthropologists and proponents of religious studies focus on the social and technological aspects of Pentecostal filmmaking and the discourses produced by these films within the religious landscape. This essay brings another avenue of exploration. It supplements the anthropological approach by exploring the Pentecostal narratives found at the interface of cinematography and Pentecostal epistemology for their theological substance. It is argued here that the Pentecostal melodrama is not only unique for how it serves as an epistemological technique for “piercing the veil” to expose the true state of things. It is also unique for how its narratives, themselves, are often products of a similar piercing, that is, of the dream or vision experience which visioners experience as the phenomenon of piercing the veil beyond the mundane to the noumenal. Referencing data drawn from recent dream research, this article explores the interpretive processes inherent to Pentecostal mediation of the seen and unseen, the role of prayer in that process and the suggestion that cinematography embodies the liturgical expression of a distinct Pentecostal epistemology.

Between a Pastoral and Melodrama: Frances Burney and the Romantic Stage

by Fran Saggini
This research is part of the Horizon 2020 project called “Opening Romanticism: Reimagining Romantic Drama for New Audiences”(OpeRaNew) ID 892230 within the ERC programme Horizon 2020 MSCA-IF-2019. The PI is Francesca Saggini. See CORDIS website at


It is well known that the neglect of the dramatic works composed by Frances Burney (1752-1840) was largely caused by the unwavering opposition put up by her father, the famed musicologist Charles Burney, who shared the strong anti-theatrical prejudice that characterized the century as a whole. Paradoxically, this critical disregard has partly continued even after the watershed publication of Burney’s Complete Plays (Sabor ed.) in 1995. Although a number of interesting contributions have since reformulated Burney scholarship in terms of comedy (discussing, for instance, the comic elements in Evelina, or the genteel comedies The Witlings and A Busy Day), the tragic component of Burney’s opus remains one of the last frontiers of enquiry. My talk, “Between a Pastoral and Melodrama: Frances Burney and the Romantic Stage”, offers a new dimension to the appraisal of Burney’s dramaturgy by focusing on ‘Hubert De Vere, a Pastoral Tragedy,’ written during Burney’s years at George III’s court (1786-1794). Despite the interest shown by John Philip Kemble, the greatest tragic actor of the age and the manager of Drury Lane Theatre, Hubert De Vere never reached the stage or, more surprisingly, the printed page, preordaining its subsequent critical eclipse.

Inventing the American City: Dion Boucicault, John Brougham, and Transatlantic Urban Melodrama

by Nicholas Daly

in Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


Two Dublin-born playwrights, Dion Boucicault and John Brougham (9 May 1810–7 June 1880), shadowed each other through the world of nineteenth-century theatre. In recent years, critical attention has often focused on their representations of racial and national identities, with Boucicault’s plantation drama, The Octoroon, and Brougham’s frontier parodies deservedly attracting attention. However, in this essay I want to spotlight their contribution to the local drama, and in particular their staging of urban America within the wider transatlantic context of staging the nineteenth-century city, in such plays as The Poor of New York (1857) and The Lottery of Life (1868). The city as it appears in their work is a place of spectacle, shapeshifting, and sheer illicit fun.

‘Why is it Different with a Hare?’ Game-Law Melodrama on Stage and Screen in Colin Hazlewood’s Waiting for the Verdict

by Stephen Ridgwell

in Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


Much of Colin Hazlewood’s prolific mid-Victorian output consisted of adaptations. A classic example of Hazlewood’s adaptational practice and an excellent case study in the restlessly intermedial nature of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century popular culture was his 1859 game-law melodrama Waiting for the Verdict. One of Hazlewood’s most successful plays, it was later adapted for the screen by the Edwardian filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon. Tracing his work across different media forms, this article further confirms Hazlewood as a highly skilled adaptor, while offering some viewable evidence of the creative links between theatre and early cinema. The article also suggests that what I term game-law melodrama represented a significant sub-genre variant to the broader one of domestic drama. Game-law melodramas such as Waiting for the Verdict offered picturesque entertainment for largely urban audiences, but they also provided pertinent social comment on a major concern of the day.

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