Category Archives: Publications

Publications

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 .

Fall 2019

The Royal Theatre Presents: Echoes of Melodrama in the Magic Kingdom

by Maria Patrice Amon

in Performance and the Disney Theme Park Experience

Abstract:

In March, 2013, Disneyland opened the Royal Theatre, condensing Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, and Frozen into 22-minute stage adaptations. The decor of the theatre, the language of the characters, and the costuming of the performers all work together to evoke a nostalgic and loose sense of history that calls on guests to interact with the story in the style of an “old-time melodrama,” booing, hissing, cheering, and singing along to the story. In this essay Maria Patrice Amon argues that tourists are taught how to perform as actors and given a new hybrid identity as both performer and audience that extends to the parks as a whole. The essay explores the theatrical genre of melodrama and asserts that the Royal Theatre’s use of this genre gives the audience a way to exceed their assumed passivity and interact with the performers as actors themselves.

The spy who loved me: Benjamin Christensen and the Danish silent spy melodrama

by Casper Tybjerg

in Journal of Scandinavian Cinema

Abstract:

This article examines the spy melodrama films produced in Denmark from 1909 to 1918, 21 in all. The best-known (and one of only two to survive) is Benjamin Christensen’s Det hemmelighedsfulde X (Sealed Orders) (1914). A coda will briefly discuss the only pre-1945 spy talking film, Damen med de lyse Handsker (The Lady with the Light Gloves) (1942), also directed by Christensen. The article employs an approach similar to James Chapman’s contextual film history, examining the Danish silent spy melodramas in the context of political climate and genre, but with an emphasis on the concerns of film producers and practitioners. Surviving plot summaries, which exist for all 21 films, reveal a considerable degree of consistency in the storylines. The article argues that the melodramatic elements found in nearly all the films suggest a more female-oriented audience appeal than that of many later spy fictions.

Mothers, Maidens and Machos: Demolishing the Myths of Mexican Melodrama in Principio y fin (1993)

by Caryn Connelly

in The Films of Arturio Ripstein

Abstract:

Principio y fin marks the convergence of the two central themes Arturo Ripstein and Paz Alicia Garcíadiego had already begun to develop in their previous collaborations: the deconstruction of the mother figure (La mujer del puerto, 1991) and masculinity, specifically the figure of el macho (El imperio de la fortuna, 1986). Through these themes, Principio y fin undoes the traditional tropes of melodrama while it focuses on a struggling middle-class family as it grapples with the failures of Mexican modernization and the hollowness of the middle-class dream. In this chapter, building on Julianne Burton’s classic definition of the Mexican melodrama and how it affirms the values of a patriarchal system, I focus on how Ripstein and Garciadiego subvert the genre to break down the traditional myths it has constructed about mothers, maidens and machos.

Biopics and the Melodramatic Mode

by Sonia Amalia Haiduc

in A Companion to the Biopic

Abstract:

This chapter focuses on the matter of emotional truth as a product of melodramatically‐constructed emotional authenticity through the lens of melodrama and explores the interventions of the melodramatic mode into the biopic genre in two self‐reflexive, ‘auteurist’ biopics, André Téchiné’s Les Soeurs Brontë (1979) and François Ozon’s Angel (2007). Reviews of literary biopics have tended to underline that writing is far from being an especially compelling activity to watch. Nonetheless, the chapter argues that the visual dynamism supposedly lacking in these types of biopics is located in and around the body as text in motion, a body ‘pregnant’ with meanings, an ultimately melodramatic body. In literary biopics, the melodramatic mode is reflective precisely of the aspect of ‘deep time’, the mode of the imagination in excess of ‘reality’ and ‘the real’ for which melodrama’s ‘aesthetics of emotion’ and its affective traction open up a space.

 

 

 

The Shield and Breaking Bad as televisual fallen-man serial melodramas

by David Pierson

in The Journal of Popular Television

Abstract:

This article argues that the television series The Shield (2002–08) and Breaking Bad (2008–13) are televisual ‘fallen-man’ serial melodramas. Janet Staiger (2008) coined the term ‘fallen-man’ to define the male melodramas produced during the American film noir cycle (1945–59). Unlike the classic film noir victim-protagonist, The Shield’s Vic Mackey and Breaking Bad’s Walter White are not led astray by a femme fatale but rather through their own egos, which interfere with them controlling their morality. As with the filmic fallen-man melodramas, both Vic and Walter make explicit, psychologized choices of action that place them on their immoral pathways. The televisual fallen man melodramas are expressive of social and cultural anxieties confronting middle-class, white males in western societies. Because Vic and Walter perceive themselves as cultural and economic victims, they commit heinous acts against their families, colleagues and others – all in the pursuit of attaining social power and autonomy in a post-9/11 multicultural America.

Dickens’s Tableaux
Melodrama and Sexual Opacity in David Copperfield and Bleak House
by Victoria Wiet
Abstract:
This essay examines the features and function of tableaux in two novels by Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850) and Bleak House (1853), in order to rethink the influence of melodramatic conventions on the form of narrative fiction, particularly the understanding of female sexuality that melodrama afforded novelists. Taking Dickens as an important example, literary critics have typically associated melodrama with ostentatious legibility, but recent scholarship on the theatrical tableau has illuminated the complex ways the melodramatic stage both produced and occluded revelation. Drawing on this work, I demonstrate that the adaptation of the tableau into the novel form increases the possibility of illegibility because readers necessarily rely on the narrator’s description and interpretation of the material world. In David Copperfield and Bleak House, this remediation has particularly significant consequences for the representation of sexually compromised women. By inadequately revealing the sexual histories of suspected “fallen women,” densely visual but opaque scenes featuring Annie Strong, Martha Endell, and Honoria Dedlock defer judgment on their characters, with Lady Dedlock’s protracted illegibility preventing her plot from culminating in a decisive narrative or moral conclusion. Because the narrators of both novels depict these female characters as deliberately making themselves illegible, the novel tableau becomes an important way for Dickens to dramatize the fallibility of the omniscient and quasi-omniscient narrators of realist fiction.

Recycling melodrama: HBO’s “quality television” discourse and the place of women’s testimony

by Michael Reinhard

Blurb:
Over the past decade, HBO has turned towards domestic melodramas like OliveKitteridge(2014), Sharp Objects(2018), and Big Little Lies(2017) to cultivate its aesthetic brand of“quality television”for women (Imre2009; McCabe& Akass2007) . These series frequently position their themes in dialogue with popular feminisms through melodrama’s documented capacity to seize upon the social problems that mark everyday public life (Linda Williams2001; Christine Gledhill1987). The identification of a“quality television”discourse in the development of HBO’s television slate for women has seized on this melodramatic tradition during a period in which social media networks have provided communities of feminists and allies space to reconsider the value, authenticity,and place of women’s testimony in the public sphere. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings,The New York Times captured the“#WhyIDidn’tReport”phenomena where survivors of sexual assault testified to their silenced experiences on social media. That many recent“quality”domestic melodramas on HBO feature Academy Award-winning or nominated film actresses, such as Frances McDormand and Reese Witherspoon, who advocate feminist storytelling as well as the Time’s Up legal defense fund is a relationship worth examining. While careers of film-turned-TV actresses have previously been thought through heuristics like recycling (Mary R. Desjardins2015), the present circumstances of these actresses reflect not only the renewed cultural place of television but also clear tensions between the re-emergence of middle-class feminist political discourse on television today and its relationship to the racial underpinnings of the film industry’s cultures of prestige. It is precisely this tension that now marks the function of HBO’s recycling of domestic melodrama in its development of television branded as“quality.”

Not Your Mother’s Melodrama: Three Twenty-First-Century Women’s Films

by E.L. McCallum

This essay argues that twenty-first-century melodrama films by female directors rework the core components of classic melodrama form—not only its timing, but also narrative form, agnition, and the underlying fantasy of union. While they retain a focus on objects and setting as bearers of emotion, and on a crisis in intimate relations, the three films by Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, and Ann Hui considered here reconsider melodrama’s possibilities. They all broach ways of rethinking Oedipal fantasy, moving beyond a story of the fraught emergence of the individual to one focused on a collective problem of how we negotiate a proper proximity to cherished others. All three films turn from what could have been to what the past makes possible now and thus change melodrama from a melancholic genre to a generative one.

Vamps and Virgins: The Women of 1920s Hollywood War Romances

by Liz Clarke

Liz Clarke suggests moving beyond surveying the canonical combat films in order to take a closer look at the representations of women and war in early Hollywood. She points out that in the 1920s, Hollywood studios considered females to be their target audience and so geared their narratives and complex female protagonists accordingly. Exploring films from that time era, Clarke connects melodrama and war and observes the broader relationship between heroism, gender, war, and nation that arises in these films. She argues that when we define war films beyond military training and combat narratives alone, more possibilities exist to look at the multifaceted ways women and war are on screen.