Author Archives: tlepro

Fall 2020 Books

Starring Women: Celebrity, Patriarchy, and American Theater, 1790-1850
by Sara E. Lampert
Summary:
Lampert examines the lives, careers, and fame of overlooked figures from Europe and the United States whose work in melodrama, ballet, and other stage shows shocked and excited early U.S. audiences. These women lived and performed the tensions and contradictions of nineteenth-century gender roles, sparking debates about women’s place in public life. Yet even their unprecedented wealth and prominence failed to break the patriarchal family structures that governed their lives and conditioned their careers. Inevitable contradictions arose. The burgeoning celebrity culture of the time forced women stage stars to don the costumes of domestic femininity even as the unsettled nature of life in the theater defied these ideals.

A revealing foray into a lost time, Starring Women returns a generation of performers to their central place in the early history of American theater.

A Tale of Two Faces: Melodramatizing Jekyll and Hyde

by Susanne Scholz
in And Thereby Hangs a Tale: A Critical Anatomy of (Popular) Tales

Almost immediately after its publication in 1886, the story of the re-spectable Dr Jekyll and his sinister alter ego Mr Hyde, and its proclama-tion of the fundamental duality of the human being became common knowledge. Detached from its original literary form, the notion of the double self seemed to give a local habitation and a name to a perceived (maybe universal) feature of mankind, and some years before Freud published his first treatises on unconscious forces within the human frame, Stevenson’s story provided an imaginative pattern for this piece of anthropological wisdom. It thus has all the characteristics of a tale, a somewhat timeless but at the sametime infinitely actualisable cultural narrative which articulates a cultural truth, in this case “that man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson,48). The double-faced doctor be-came a cultural icon, to be conjured up to the present day to give voiceto concerns about forces in man uncontrollable by reason or morality. The ‘message’ of the tale, however, shifted according to cultural de-mand. In this chapter, I want to argue that it was the clothing into the melodramatic formula which transformed Stevenson’s story into a cul-tural narrative, and that by this transformation, the moral message of the tale was (somewhat reductively) conceived to be the fight of good versus evil in man. Thomas Elsaesser speaks of the myth-making func-tion of melodrama and generally calls it a “tale of sound and fury”, thus attributing a specific cultural agenda to the genre (Elsaesser 1987,44).

Fall 2020

Melodrama Interrupted: Kawashima Yūzō’s Interventions in Genre and Gender

By: Earl Jackson

Abstract:
Kawashima Yūzō(1918-63) directed 51films between 1944 and 1963. Although he began as a “program director” for Shochiku Studios, his subsequent films for Nikkatsu, Toho, and Daiei are among the most innovative and at times daring in popular cinema of those years. Although highly regarded for his complex comedies, Kawashima’s melodramas are not only hallmarks of eloquent filmmaking, but at times venues for formal experimentation. This essay will consider four instances in which the formal experimentation constitutes interventionsin the genre itself, especially in terms of the relation of melodrama to gender.

O’Neill and Camille: Domestic Drama In“The Web” and “Recklessness”

by Thomas F. Connelly

Abstract

At the start of his career Eugene O’Neill aspired to be a popular playwright. This is at odds with the conventional assessment of O’Neill’s ambitions. Dramas that take their inspiration from popular modes and from cultural nodes outside the canonical texts of playwrights’’ “major “periods are neglected. These earliest plays drawing on popular melodrama and relying on explicitly commercial theatrical inspiration do not fit the established model of O’Neill who insisted he wanted ‘to be an artist” or nothing. “Recklessness” could not find a theatrical production, but was produced as a film. “The Web” draws on popular conventions of “working girl” melodramas.The plays also draw heavily on the influence of adaptations of Dumas’ Camille, which had been a favorite for decades. The generic “domestic drama” in early 20 th century theatre has been limited to conventional households.  These plays offer a somewhat different view. O’Neill is known to have been influenced by Ibsen and Strindberg in his later works, but these plays reveal these influences as present from the start. Finally, they demonstrate that O’Neill had family relationships that had nothing to do with the allegedly autobiography in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. O’Neill intended “Recklessness” as a possible vehicle for his father.O’Neill must be placed firmly in the context of late 19 th and early 20 th century theatre. To continue to regard him as sui generis , hobbles our understanding of American theatre and O’Neill’s genius.

Anne Boleyn on the Nineteenth-Century Stage

by Stephanie Russo

Abstract

The Victorian theatre was the mass entertainment of its day, and Anne Boleyn’s story was a popular subject, appearing in forms from the melodrama to the burlesque. The Anne of many of these plays is virtuous and faultless, the perfect heroine of Victorian melodrama. The nineteenth century also saw a return to an emphasis on religion, with Henry Hart Milman’s Anne Boleyn: A Dramatic Poem presenting Anne as a saintly Protestant martyr. However, others, such as George Boker’s Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy, represent a far more active and intelligent, if flawed, Anne. Anna Dickinson’s play A Crown of Thorns would also be the first text to posit that Cromwell was always hostile to Anne due to his loyalty to Cardinal Wolsey, anticipating Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

Class injuries and popular cinema in Turkey: arabesk cries

by Özgür Avcı
Abstract
Arabesk is a trademark of popular culture in Turkey. At its foundation lie injuries of class, emotional wounds that society inflicts on people’s sense of dignity and freedom. Literature on arabesk has long underemphasized this salient fact. A syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis of the narrative structure in thirty melodramas shows that the agony around which arabesk stories unfolds is rooted in class conflict. This study also reveals remarkable parallels between depictions of love in arabesk films from decades ago and the lower classes’ imagination of love today. Thereby, it provides confirmation of the importance of assessing the works of popular culture accurately if we are to better understand the psyche of their target audience in Turkey (and elsewhere in the capitalist world), which is primarily the subaltern segment of society.

The Two Orphans/Orphans of the Storm: Melodrama Stage and Screen

by David Mayer
Abstract
The origins of D. W. Griffith’s 1921/22 film Orphans of the Storm can be traced through a popular French melodrama Les Deux Orphelines (1874), its performance in translation on the British and American stage, and several earlier film versions. This article charts the ways in which the melodrama was changed and adapted over time and demonstrates Griffith’s indebtedness to nineteenth-century theatrical practices

MELODRAMA OF MIGRATION: Suffering, Performance, and Stardom in Ricardo Lee’s DH: Domestic Helper

by Oscar Tantoco Serquiña Jr

Abstract
This essay revisits DH: Domestic Helper, a 1992 play from the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) that explores how Philippine labor out-migration ensnares female migrant subjects in states of perennial leave-takings and tentative resettlements abroad. The discussion comprehends the suffering that overseas Filipina workers experience, as well as the agency that they demonstrate through performance in everyday life outside their source country. This essay concludes with an inter-subjective analysis of the very star and ultimate persuasion of PETA’s phenomenal theater production, Nora Aunor, the melodramatic mode of theater making, and the topic of labor out-migration. By putting these issues side by side, this essay discursively intertwines stardom, theater, the domestic, and the diasporic.

Winter 2020 Books/Chapters

Melodrama
in Philosophical Issues in Indian Cinema: Approximate Terms and Concepts
by MK Raghavendra
The aspect of Indian popular cinema to have been studied most extensively by scholars is perhaps its melodrama, and the strategy is usually to regard it in the light of Western studies of the notion. The major difficulty with the strategy is that the term ‘melodrama’ largely loses its significance when applied to Indian popular cinema (at least until the 1990s) because there is little that cannot be described as ‘melodramatic’. While Western texts have something to offer instead of melodrama (realism, for instance) and the term is a useful form of identification, it is necessary to identify individual films that are ‘not melodrama’ before the term can be usefully applied.

Summer 2020

Masks and Melodramas: Theatrical Influences on Film Adaptations of Macbeth

by Anne Hung

Abstract:

This paper presents a comparative analysis of two film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606)—Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015). Specifically, I explore the influence of Japanese Noh theatre in Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and the influence of Victorian melodrama in Kurzel’s Macbeth. In doing so, I aim to present Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a case study of how film adaptations can give new meaning to their source texts by putting them in dialogue with other theatrical traditions.

The Spy Who Ought to Love Me: Se, jie and the Melodrama of Shame Nationalism
by Jason G. Coe

Abstract
This article examines manifestations of “shame nationalism”—a learned emotional script prevalent in discourses of modern Chinese national identity—in Se, jie (Lust, Caution; Ang Lee, 2007) and its reception. The essay argues that this affectively charged response to perceived national humiliation functions as a form of communal identification that performs and interprets shame as a signal of moral virtue and national devotion. Analyzing performances of shame and humiliation in the film, the article demonstrates how the emotional script for shame nationalism employs the melodramatic mode for its narrativization and dissemination.

Winter 2019

Un)Frozen expressions: Melodramatic moment, affective interval, and the transformative powers of experimental cinema

by Jiří Anger

in NECSUS

Excerpt:

The Czech philosopher Karel Thein once said, with regard to the expressive features of Pedro Almodovar’s film Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother, 1999), that in melodrama, ‘a second lasts a lifetime, a minute is eternity’.[1] While the term melodrama is used in so many different contexts and with so many different meanings that it becomes nearly impossible to bind it to a discrete genre, or even a coherent set of stylistic and narrative features, the melodramatic mode of expression remains intuitively recognisable. From soap operas to Dostoyevsky’s novels, from boulevard theatres to grand opera houses, from live performances to YouTube supercuts, a distinct kind of expressive situation is clearly discernible – a scene of passionate suffering when the plot breaks down and freezes in a static and symbolic arrangement, a scene in which the figures are overwhelmed with emotion and unable to properly react, a moment that may seem relatively brief in terms of narrative content yet is pregnant with emotional meaning

 

Performance, performativity and melodrama as dramatic substance in Hindi film song sequences

by Anna Morcom

in Studies in South Asian Film and Media

Abstract:

In this article, I explore the dramatic substance of Hindi film songs through an approach based in performance studies, which presents performance as the very stuff of social life, social identities and social power. Given this, the enactment of song sequences in the Hindi film narrative cannot be dramatically benign, or just excess, or just pleasure (however intense). I describe how song sequences perform and thereby manifest and reify love and romance in the film narrative. Using work on public spectacle and power by Foucault and the public sphere by Vasudevan, I further analyse how they connect the public, emotions of love, and social or familial struggle in various ways, embodying key nodes of melodrama. I then reflect, in these terms, on the recent curtailment of performed songs in Hindi films. I thereby present a new method for analysing the dramatic agency of screened or background songs in films.

 

“You Can Be More”: Farscape, Melodrama, and Space Opera Revisited

by Carlen Lavigne

in MOSF Journal of Science Fiction

Abstract:

The science fiction television series Farscape (Syfy, 1999–2003) was notable for its subversive blend of science fiction and soap opera conventions, which allowed the series to present as a complex study of gender and sexuality. However, small but overt elements serve to undermine the subtler feminist or queer potential of Farscape’s overall structures. This article examines the series, specifically in light of later-season episodes and the two-part conclusion, The Peacekeeper Wars, in examining whether Farscape successfully maintains its position as groundbreaking cult television.

Spring 2020

Melodrama and Class Performance in Cama adentro by Jorge Gaggero

by Maria B. Clark

Abstract:

The analysis of the Argentine film Cama adentro (2004) focuses on melodramatic elements and cinematographic strategies for the dramatization of class performance. The drama unfolds in the context of the country’s economic crisis that reaches its climax in 2001 when the bourgeois world of the businesswoman Beba crashes down with her realization that she is not better off than her maid who has not been paid by her for months. By applying Judith Butler’s concept of gender-a construct dependent on the habitual repetition of performative acts-to the concept of social class, it is possible to examine the melodramatic aspects of the film as a vehicle for the performance of class by both characters.

 

Travel films, melodrama and the origins of ethnofiction
by Paul Henley

Compared with the films produced by academic anthropologists, which were modest in both scope and technical complexity, or even with those produced for museums or for empire- and nation-building purposes, the films of ethnographic interest made during the first half of the twentieth century by film-makers working for commercial production companies were generally much more imaginative and technically accomplished. In order to make their films accessible to a popular audience, far from eschewing authorship, as anthropologists of the period sought to do, these commercial film-makers had no hesitation in authoring their films. Ironically, a number of these commercially produced films have been claimed, retrospectively as it were, as masterworks of early ethnographic cinema and are now much more frequently watched and discussed, even in academic contexts, than the films made over the same period according to the self-denying ordinances of more academic ethnographic film-makers.

In this chapter, after a preliminary section discussing the very earliest examples of films concerned with culturally exotic subject matter produced by the Edison and Lumière production companies, I consider how two commercial entertainment genres – the travel film and the melodrama set in an exotic location – constituted the cinematic crucible out of which emerged three films that are often referred to as major milestones in the history of ethnographic film: Grass , In the Land of the Head Hunters and, most important of all, Nanook of the North .