Category Archives: Uncategorized

Spring 2021

The melodrama of Ozu: Tokyo Story and its time

by: Daisuke Miyao

in Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema

ABSTRACT

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

Abstract

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

Abstract:

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


ABSTRACT

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
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).

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 .

An Octoroon at Kean Stage

There will be a production of The Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at Kean University from October 11th – October 19th. Tickets are available here: Kean Stage
From the website:

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY, if it was a film it would be rated R.

“Strange as it seems, a work based on a terminally dated play from more than 150 years ago may turn out to be this decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.”– Ben Brantley, New York Times

Broadly adapted from Irish playwright Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, a wildly popular 19th century melodrama, Jacobs-Jenkins’ transgressive comedy/tragedy is a subversive mash-up of the antebellum south and 21st century cultural politics. The playwright dares the audience to examine racism and..

June 2018

“The Colored Angle”: Contending Visions of Imitation of Life

by Alice Mikal Craven

in Visible and Invisible Whiteness : Amevisible and invisible whiteness.jpgrican White Supremacy Through the Cinematic Lens

A comparative analysis of the 1934 John M. Stahl film Imitation of Life and émigré director Douglas Sirk’s 1959 version allows for a more precise definition of how visible and invisible whiteness can be defined and represented in the cinema. The chapter argues that by looking at Stahl’s decisions concerning the generic structures he uses throughout the film, the visibility of whiteness that dominates in the first half of the film is rendered invisible by changing the guiding genre of the film from melodrama to romantic comedy halfway through the film. The chapter equally argues that Sirk’s focus on “the colored angle” allows for a different perspective on cinematic representations of white supremacy.