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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.

Fall 2022

By Matthew Bush

Other Americans traces the US imaginary of Latin America as a land of violence and sensuality. Employing melodrama and affect theory, Other Americans offers exemplary close readings of a wide range of media produced in and about Latin America. What emerges is a lucid conception of Latin American as a collection of negative affects picturing America’s displaced investment in lawlessness.

Summer 2022


Paul, Heike (editor)

Marak, Sarah (editor)

Gerund, Katharina (editor)

Henderson, Marius (editor)

This new go-to reference book for global melodrama assembles contributions by experts from a wide range of disciplines, including cultural studies, film and media studies, gender and queer studies, political science, and postcolonial studies. The melodramas covered in this volume range from early 20th century silent movies to contemporary films, from independent ›arthouse‹ productions to Hollywood blockbusters. The comprehensive overview of global melodramatic film in the Lexicon constitutes a valuable resource for scholars and practitioners of film, teachers, film critics, and anyone who is interested in the past and present of melodramatic film on a global scale. The Lexicon of Global Melodrama includes essays on All That Heaven Allows, Bombay, Casablanca, Die Büchse der Pandora, In the Mood for Love, Nosotros los Pobres, Terra Sonâmbula, and Tokyo Story.


Spring 2021

The melodrama of Ozu: Tokyo Story and its time

by: Daisuke Miyao

in Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema


The Japanese filmmaker Ozu Yasujirō openly expressed his disgust for melodrama in a December 1952 interview. And yet, curiously, he said Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari), which was released only a year later, had ‘the strongest melodramatic tendency’ among his films. Ozu never said he disliked his acclaimed 1953 film. How should we interpret this contradiction? In this essay, I take Ozu’s conflicting claims as indicative of the complexity of the discourse of melodrama in Japan. I locate Tokyo Story in two contexts: the context of Euro-American studies of film melodrama and that of the discourse on melodrama in Japanese film criticism. The first context reveals that Tokyo Story cannot be comfortably categorized as a melodrama, though the film shares elements of the melodramatic imagination. The second context demonstrates that Tokyo Story is not a simple melodrama. Ozu’s contradiction stemmed from an ambivalent definition of melodrama in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. By closely analyzing Ozu’s Tokyo Story, and how melodrama was imagined and constructed between the 1930s and the 1950s, we can gain a stronger understanding of the film’s relation to the mode.

Melodrama and Visibility

by Juan Sebastián Ospina León

in Struggles for Recognition

About this book

Struggles for Recognition traces the emergence of melodrama in Latin American silent film and silent film culture. In this deeply archival investigation, Juan Sebastián Ospina León examines how melodrama visualized and shaped the social arena of urban modernity in early twentieth-century Latin America. Analyzing sociocultural contexts through film, this book demonstrates the ways in which melodrama was mobilized for both liberal and illiberal ends, revealing or concealing social inequities from Buenos Aires to Bogotá to Los Angeles. Ospina León critically engages Euro-American and Latin American scholarship seldom put into dialogue, offering an innovative theorization of melodrama relevant to scholars working within and across different national contexts.

On ‘Not Being Nothing’: Post-ironic Melodrama in James Gray’s “The Immigrant”

by Simone Francescato

in: Iperstroria: Journal of American and English Studies


This essay analyzes James Gray’s The Immigrant (2013) discussing it as an instance of post-ironic melodrama (Włodek 2017) aimed at recovering the purity shown by this genre in the early phases of cinematic history. The essay argues that, although the movie pays evident homage to pre-classic silent-era melodramas, it also destabilizes the genre’s conventions by resorting to a particular use of the mise-en-scène and characterization. This directorial choice allows the film to retain pathos without eschewing ambivalence and indeterminacy, finally contributing to produce a complex representation of immigrants’ experience as well as a rather bleak portrait of the American Dream.

Excavating French Melodrama of the First Empire

by Katherine Astbury, Sarah Burdett, Diane Tisdall

in: Sound Stage Screen, Vol. 1, Issue 1

French melodrama of the Napoleonic era was a form of total theater with text, music, and gesture inextricably linked in the creation of effect for the post-Revolutionary audience. Theater scholarship in France has long been dominated by textual analysis and, as a result, the interconnections between these elements of melodrama performance have been underexplored, although attempts “to ‘sonorize’ the study of melodrama” are becoming more widespread. Even the groundbreaking volumes of René-Charles Guilbert de Pixerécourt’s theater being produced currently perpetuate the subservience of music to text in that the play texts receive full critical apparatus whereas the scores do not.

Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown: Narcoqueens, Beauty Queens, and Melodrama in Narconarratives
by Maria Luisa Ruiz

in: The Middle Atlantic Council of Latin American Studies Vol. 5, No. 1

The melodramatic narrative mode creates complex realities and news events as logical and consumable stories. This article considers the ways that popular media portray the cases of Sandra Avila Beltrán and Laura Zúñiga, both arrested on drug-related charges in separate incidents that overlap with narconarratives. My analysis demonstrates that Avila Beltrán’s and Zúñiga’s life stories intrigued audiences, because, in the context of melodramas, woman as criminals is an attractive trope that counters expected “feminine” behavior and challenges constructions of national ideals and respectable femininity. 

Reimagining Melodrama in The Old Curiosity Shop
by: James Armstrong
in: Dickens Quarterly Vol. 38, No. 1


This article considers how The Old Curiosity Shop constantly borrows from and reinvents the conventions of stage melodramas popular in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Rather than simply imitating the melodramas of the stage, the novel reworks them for its own purposes, transforming stage melodrama into something much more complex in terms of linguistics, scenography, and character. Focusing on melodramas by Douglas Jerrold, Henry William Grosette, and John Baldwin Buckstone, the article explores how Dickens freely borrowed from stage melodramas popular at the time he was writing The Old Curiosity Shop, but gives them new life by complicating and sometimes even subverting their conventions.

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.

Fall 2020 Books

Starring Women: Celebrity, Patriarchy, and American Theater, 1790-1850
by Sara E. Lampert
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).