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).

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.