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.

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..

Becoming Modern: British and American Melodrama

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, October 25, 2019

We are pleased to announce a one-day conference on early film and Victorian stage melodrama in Britain and the United States, to be held at Rutgers University, New Brunswick on October 25.  The conference will include talks by Jim Davis, Christine Gledhill, Taryn Hakala, Dan Novak, Michael Pisani, and Sharon Weltman, and a keynote address by David Mayer. This is an unusual opportunity to gather with some of the finest scholars working in the field, and MRC members are encouraged to attend.  For more information, contact Carolyn Williams (williams@english.rutgers.edu) and Matthew Buckley (buckley@english.rutgers.edu).