Spring 2018

Melodrama and Soap Opera
by Elana Levine

Feminist film and television studies shared a crucial period of development in the late 1970s and early 1980s, taking shape into influential fields and helping to establish central questions for media scholarship that would carry through to the twenty-first century. Laura Mulvey’s mid-1970s theorization of male spectatorship revolutionized the field, but left many feminist scholars wondering about female spectatorship, specifically the potential for feminized forms of “visual pleasure,” whether in cinema or other media.1 The result was a turn by feminist thinkers toward two objects: melodrama and soap opera. The work generated amid the Western world’s second wave of feminism focused on women’s engagement with screen cultures, but in so doing explored conceptions of spectatorship and audiencehood, the relationship between textual analysis and contextual inquiry, and the specificity of film and television as narrative forms and sites for the construction of identity.2

The study of film melodrama preceded the study of soap opera in an explicitly feminist vein. Beginning in the 1970s, film scholars began to attend to the category of “melodrama,” a grouping of films that were often seen as synonymous with the “family melodrama,” particularly of the post–World War II era. Such films had long been dismissed as insignificant for film study due to their feminized emotional excess, but in the 1970s such works as those of Douglas Sirk were “rediscovered” as ironic commentaries on the ideological tendencies of patriarchal capitalism, expressed largely through visual style.3 In the same period, Mulvey, writing about Sirk as well as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, began to define a more overtly feminist concern, declaring the specific “interest to women” in such films, given their emphasis on “the way that sexual difference under patriarchy is fraught, explosive, and erupts dramatically into violence within its own private stamping ground, the family.”4

The Mortara Case and the Literary Imagination: Jewish Melodrama and the Pleasures of Victimhood

by Jonathan M. Hess

Abstract:

The 1858 kidnapping of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara by officials of the Papal States in Bologna unleashed a media frenzy across Europe and North America, giving voice to widespread expressions of outrage over the overreach of the Catholic church and the anachronism of Papal rule. Jews in the German-speaking world did not just follow the sensationalized reporting on the fate of this Italian Jewish boy baptized by his Catholic nurse. They also produced a body of melodramatic fiction and drama that took the Mortara case as its inspiration. This literature, written by rabbis and those with close ties to rabbinical leadership, responded to the Mortara affair by creating narratives with happy endings where Jewish children taken into custody by the church inevitably return to their parents and embrace Jewish tradition. Discussing literary texts by Salomon Formstecher, Leopold Stein, Abraham Treu, and Sara Hirsch Guggenheim, this article explores how German-Jewish writers self-consciously transformed the Mortara affair into melodramatic literature designed for the purposes of entertainment. Melodrama hardly marked a withdrawal from the arena of political protest, however. Studying how these texts functioned to entertain their readers, this article explores how this body of literature drew its energy from an interplay of fantasies of Jewish power and vicarious experiences of Jewish victimhood. In doing so, the analysis reflects on the social function of melodrama in nineteenth-century Jewish life, bringing to light the mechanisms that Mortara fiction used to produce pleasurable feelings of self-righteousness in its Jewish readers.

March 2018


Melodrama Unbound: Across History, Media, and National Cultures

Edited by Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams
Columbia University Press

 

For too long melodrama has been associated with outdated and morally simplistic stereotypes of the Victorian stage; for too long film studies has construed it as a singular domestic melodrama unboundgenre of familial and emotional crises, either subversively excessive or narrowly focused on the dilemmas of women. Drawing on new scholarship in transnational theatrical, film, and cultural histories, this collection demonstrates that melodrama is a transgeneric mode that has long spoken to fundamental aspects of modern life and feeling.

Pointing to melodrama’s roots in the ancient Greek combination of melos and drama, and to medieval Christian iconography focused on the pathos of Christ as suffering human body, the volume highlights the importance to modernity of melodrama as a mode of emotional dramaturgy, the social and aesthetic conditions for which emerged long before the French Revolution. Contributors articulate new ways of thinking about melodrama that underscore its pervasiveness across national cultures and in a variety of genres. They examine how melodrama has traveled to and been transformed in India, China, Japan, and South America, whether through colonial circuits or later, globalization; how melodrama mixes with other modes such as romance, comedy, and realism; and finally how melodrama has modernized the dramatic functions of gender, class, and race by orchestrating vital aesthetic and emotional experiences for diverse audiences.

About the Author

Christine Gledhill is a visiting professor in cinema studies at the University of Sunderland. She is the author of Reframing British Cinema, 1918–1928: Between Restraint and Passion (2003); editor of Home Is Where the Heart Is (1987); and coeditor of Doing Women’s Film History: Reframing Cinemas Past and Future (2015).

Linda Williams is professor emerita in film & media and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Her books include Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (1989/1999); Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson (2001); and On The Wire (2014).

The Great War(s): Our Story Bucharest, Romania: 8 – 10 May, 2018

deadline for submissions:
February 25, 2018
full name / name of organization:
The “G.Oprescu” Institute of Art History, Bucharest

Third International Conference on Balkan Cinema

The Great War(s): Our Story

Bucharest, Romania: 8 – 10 May, 2018

CALL FOR PAPERS

Following on the second International Conference on Balkan Cinema that took place in Belgrade in 2017, The Great War(s): Our Story aims to explore how the Great War and other conflicts in the region have been narrated through cinema. The 3rd International Conference on Balkan cinema will focus on moving images made by filmmakers both from within and outside the Balkans in order to highlight the connections and differences between these war narratives that have at times coalesced into “our story”. The term “our” can refer self-reflexively to a view from the Balkans as both a unified but also more dispersed space, but also to a range of identities: victims or perpetrators, civilians or soldiers, women and children in devastated cities and in the wasteland of the countryside, or men on the front, the generations of participants or the post-generations.

These war narratives told from different perspectives of the involved parties eventually challenge History or work with it, or bring together diverse and often confronting and competing national histories.

 

The “G. Oprescu” Institute of Art History in Bucharest hosts the event in commemoration of 1914-18 War, but also as the opportunity to analyse and map out the rich range of insights offered by cinematic images of war and recounted through multiple narratives of wars in the region – from the Balkan Wars to the breakup of former Yugoslavia. War has been one of those perennially rich topics since the beginning of cinema, narrated through a wide range of genre guises, from documentaries to fiction films, war spectacles, historical films, melodramas, musicals etc. For instance, documentary war footage is a key component in historiography, while fictional portrayals of war are source of entertainment and pleasure, as well as material for the recognition of trauma, suffering, and victimisation. Nowadays, popular archival documentaries or docufictions have transformed films on history into “memory making films”, by showing that cinematic narratives of the past and present wars are important factors in the politics of remembering and forgetting, and constituents of collective/individual/national memory and identity.

 

Being part of a series, the conference aims to further develop transnational scholarship, transcend Balkanism and exoticism, and offer critical explorations of historical and contemporary manifestations of South Eastern European cinemas. It also helps the building of the transnational community of scholars working on the cinemas of the Balkans, South/Eastern Europe, the borders and neighbouring regions such as Central Europe or Near East, works of diaspora or communities in exile, spanning from early cinema on nitrate stock to contemporary digital cinema; and dealing with a range of themes set in the present or the past.

A range of possible themes for conference papers includes, but is not limited to:

 

  • The First and Second World Wars as the cornerstones of cinema in the Balkans
  • War and conflict – a typical Balkan topic?
  • Representation and Self-representation of the Balkans
  • War and archives
  • Changing concepts of war, changing narratives of war.
  • History and memory in cinematic war narratives
  • Intertextuality and transmediality of the past, present and future
  • Representing/deconstructing “the nation” on screen
  • Cultural memory and Balkan cinema
  • Reading and re-writing film (hi)stories
  • History, Military and Film Archives
  • Multidirectional memory in cinema

 

Special event. Public lecture

Prof. dr Dina Iordanova

Film Studies Department, University of St.Andrews      

Keynote speakers

Prof. dr Nevena Daković                      

Faculty of Dramatic Arts, University of Arts, Belgrade

Prof. dr Dominique Nasta 
Université Libre de Bruxelles   

Conference language: English

Presentation time: 20 minutes

Proposal submission deadline: February 25th, 2018

Admission notification date: March 20th, 2018

Proposal length: 250 words + short CV (Abstract proposals, names, affiliations and short CVs should be sent as ONE Word document) to the address balkanfilmconference@gmail.com

CFP: Performance, Politics, and Play

CFP: Performance, Politics, and Play (1/15/2018; 9/13-16/2018)

Performance, Politics, and Play
International Society for Cultural History
September 13-16, 2018
New York City

In response to the “performative turn” in the humanities, the ongoing interest in bio- and body-politics, and the growing attention to leisure, dance, and sport studies, the International Society for Cultural History invites paper and panel proposals for its 2018 annual conference on Performance, Politics, and Play. Scholars working on any historical period or location are encouraged to explore this theme. Topics may include (but are by no means limited to):

  • performative/bodily practices of politics and play
  • political performances
  • substance candidates vs. performance candidates
  • the relationship of performance studies to cultural history
  • leisure practices (reading, cooking, hiking, feasts, travel, holidays, café culture, theater, opera, cinemas, and restaurants)
  • the interconnection of labor and leisure (how the labor of some provides the possibility of leisure for others)
  • performances of leisure (sports, dance, parades, colonial encounters mediated by theatrical/musical/danced “exchanges”)
  • historical reenactment
  • performances of health
  • histories of sports/leisure and their relationship to cultures of health and/or to unhealth
  • histories of gaming
  • sports, spectatorship, and cultural practices of addiction (gambling, doping)
  • sports and spectatorship (players and audiences, the sport star)
  • global and local cultures of sport

The ISCH also welcomes panel and paper proposals on methods and theories of cultural history.

New York City is at the intersection of performance, politics, and play. The United Nations headquarters and Trump Tower call attention to the city’s inextricable links to global politics. The theaters of Broadway are renowned for their nightly shows. But performance also takes place in ballrooms and recording studios, in art galleries, as well as on city streets by activists, aspiring artists, and buskers. From Central Park to Coney Island, the city has long been associated with leisure. Reflecting the diversity of the city itself, conference events and prearranged cultural excursions will take place at a variety of different institutions.

Presentations should be no more than 20 minutes in length and delivered in English. Individual paper proposals should consist of an abstract (not exceeding 300 words) and a 1-2 page CV. Panel proposals should consist of the name of the organizer, an overview of the panel (not exceeding 500 words), abstracts for each paper (not to exceed 300 words), and 1-2 page CVs for each presenter. The deadline to submit proposals is January 15, 2018. Participants will be informed by February 5, 2018. Proposals and inquiries should be sent to ISCH2018@gmail.com.

Those whose abstracts are accepted for presentation will be expected to become members of the ISCH. Further details can be found on the society’s website: http://www.culthist.net/membership/.

Presenters are invited to consider submitting articles to the ISCH’s official peer-reviewed journal, Cultural History (published by the Edinburgh University Press), and monographs to the book series it publishes with Routledge. Links to each respective publication opportunity follow:

http://www.euppublishing.com/loi/cult

https://www.routledge.com/Studies-for-the-International-Society-for-Cultural-History/book-series/SISCH

The main conference events will be held at Faculty House, 64 Morningside Dr., Columbia University. Further information, including hotels with discounted group rates, will be available soon on the ISCH website. This event is not affiliated with, endorsed by, or sponsored by Columbia University.

North American Conference on British Studies Annual Meeting

CFP: North American Conference on British Studies (3/30/2018; 10/25-28/2018)

North American Conference on British Studies Annual Meeting
Providence, Rhode Island
October 25-28, 2018

The NACBS and its affiliate, the Northeast Conference on British Studies, seek participation by scholars in all areas of British Studies for the 2018 meeting. They will meet in Providence, Rhode Island, from October 25-28, 2018. They solicit proposals for presentations on Britain, the British Empire, and the British world, including topics relating to component parts of Britain and on British influence (or vice versa) in Ireland, the Commonwealth, and former colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean (etc.) Their interests range from the medieval to the modern. The NACBS welcomes participation by scholars from across the humanities and social sciences, from all parts of the globe (not just North America), and from all career stages and backgrounds. They reaffirm our commitment to British Studies broadly conceived, and welcome proposals that reflect the diversity of scholars and scholarship in the field.

The NACBS invites panel proposals that address selected themes, methodology, and pedagogy, as well as roundtable discussions of topical and thematic interest, including conversations among authors of recent books, reflections on landmark scholarship, and discussions about professional practice. They are particularly interested in submissions that have a broad chronological focus and/or interdisciplinary breadth. Standard panels typically include three presenters speaking for 20 minutes each, a commentator, and a chair, while roundtables typically include four presenters speaking for 15 minutes each and a chair. They are open to other formats, though; please feel free to consult with the program committee chair.

The NACBS hopes to secure as broad a range of participation as possible and will thus consider individual paper proposals in addition to the standard full panel proposals. Their preference is for panels that include both emerging and established scholars; they welcome the participation of junior scholars and Ph.D. candidates beyond the qualifying stage. To foster intellectual interchange, they ask applicants to compose panels that feature participation from multiple institutions. In an effort to allow a broader range of participants, no participant will be permitted to take part in more than one session in a substantial role. (That is, someone presenting or commenting on one panel cannot also present or comment on another, though individuals presenting or commenting on one panel may serve as chairs for other panels, if need be.) Submissions are welcome from participants in last year’s conference, though if the number of strong submissions exceeds the number of available spaces, selection decisions may take into account recent participation.

As complete panels are more likely to be accepted, the NACBS recommends that interested participants issue calls on H-Albion or social media (e.g., @TheNACBS on Twitter or on the NACBS Facebook page) to arrange a panel. If a full panel cannot be arranged by the deadline, however, please do submit the individual proposal and the program committee will try to build submissions into full panels as appropriate.

In addition to the panels, they will be sponsoring a poster session. The posters will be exhibited throughout the conference, and there will be a scheduled time when presenters will be with their posters to allow for further discussion. The submission website (http://www.nacbs.org/conference) will open in early January; submissions will close as of 30 March 2018.

All submissions are electronic, and need to be completed in one sitting. Before you start your submission, you should have the following information:

  • Names, affiliations and email addresses for all panel participants. Please note: The NACBS creates the program from the submission, so be sure that names, institutional titles, and paper titles are provided as they should appear on the program.
  • A note whether data projection is necessary, desired, or unnecessary.
  • A brief summary CV for each participant, indicating education, current affiliations, and major publications. (750 words maximum per CV.)
  • Title and abstract for each paper or presentation. Roundtables do not need titles for each presentation, but if you have them, that is fine. If there is no title, there should still be an abstract – i.e. “X will speak about this subject through the lens of this period/approach/region etc.”
  • Posters: Those proposing posters should enter organizer information and first presenter information only.

All communication will be through the panel organizer, who will be responsible for ensuring that members of the panel receive the information they need. All program presenters must be current members of the NACBS by September 28, one month before the conference, or risk being removed from the program.

Some financial assistance will become available for graduate students (up to $500) and for a limited number of under/unemployed members within ten years of their terminal degree ($300). Details of these travel grants and how to apply will be posted to www.nacbs.org and emailed to members after the program for the 2018 meeting is prepared.

Winter 2017

The Neo-Futurists(‘) Take on Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude in Contemporary Approaches to Adaptation in Theatre by Adrian Curtin

Abstract

In 2009, Greg Allen, founder of the US experimental theatre company The Neo-Futurists, offered a distinctive take on Eugene O’Neill’s 1928 play Strange Interlude. The five-and-a-half-hour-long production was both rapturously and rancorously received, prompting standing ovations and walkouts in its short run. This was a twenty-first century, ironic presentation of Strange Interlude that exploited and revelled in the play’s strangeness by revealing it anew. The production offers insight not only into O’Neill’s play but also into his authorial presence in the text, the construction of his authority and canonicity, and the legacy of modernist experimentation. This chapter ponders the way in which modernist play-texts can be ‘re-made new’ for the stage, to adapt Ezra Pound’s famous dictum, using this inventive, irreverent production as a case study.

 

Vitalizing Childhood through Old Age in Hector Malot’s Sans famille: An Intersectional Perspective in Connecting Childhood with Old Age in Media by Elisabeth Wesseling

Excerpt

The narrative structure of Sans famille displays the tempestuous succession of ups and downs that is typical of nineteenth-century melodrama, intended to stir the audiences feelings and soften their hearts so as to make them susceptible to a moral message (Brooks; Nemesvari 1-22). Sans famille might as well have been called Famille partout, since Remi’s most outstanding virtue is his infallible adoptability.

Let Those Who View This Sad Example Know/What Fate Attends the Broken Marriage Vow in Thomas Hamblin and the Bowery Theatre   by Thomas A. Bogar

Abstract

The Hamblins debut in New York at the Park Theatre to mixed reviews. Acting there and in Boston and Philadelphia, they develop popular followings, but Elizabeth’s reviews outshine her husband’s. When he finds favor on the stage of New York’s Bowery Theatre, he resolves to make it his own. They have a second child, a son. Sending Elizabeth to tour elsewhere with the children, Hamblin becomes a “sporting man” and begins to frequent the brothels of Manhattan. In one of them, he recruits a teenaged protégée, Naomi Vincent. Touring throughout the South and then-West, he finds adulation strongest in Charleston and widens his repertoire.

The Public Have Only Themselves to Blame for the Rise of Melodrama in Thomas Hamblin and the Bowery Theatre   by Thomas A. Bogar

Abstract

Medina helps Hamblin to quiet the fury over Missouri’s death by putting out the story that Missouri died from reading an inflammatory article in an underground “flash press” paper describing her unsavory background. Four months later, Medina as well dies unexpectedly. Hamblin becomes embroiled in the tempestuous marriage and subsequent divorce of actress Eliza Shaw, winning her for himself. She becomes the biggest star of the Bowery in melodrama, tragedy, and comedy. Managing a handsomely rebuilt Bowery Theatre, Hamblin cultivates new talent and stages an increasing number of lurid melodramas, notably Nick of the Woods and Ernest Maltravers. Hamblin’s latest protégés are Joseph Proctor, twenty-three, and Mary Ann Lee, sixteen, who will become America’s first ballerina.

Violeta Went to Heaven and the Ethics of Contemporary Latin American Melodrama in Mapping Violetta Parra’s Cultural Landscapes by Rosa Tappia

Abstract

This essay analyzes the film Violeta Went to Heaven (2011), by Chilean director Andrés Wood, as a model for the ethical dilemmas present in the creation and reception of Latin American cinema in the early twenty-first century. As the dichotomy global/homogeneous versus local/heterogeneous becomes blurrier, contemporary film analysis requires a critical stance that sidesteps the limitations of outdated paradigms. Furthermore, the epistemic shift and increased attention to affect in cultural and film studies invite us to approach Wood’s film in its emotional/political context. By framing it as a contemporary melodrama in the capitalist market, we are able to better understand the complex dynamics that govern film consumption and production in a globalized world.

Dolores Claiborne, Motherhood, and the Maternal Melodrama in Domestic Violence in Hollywood Film by Diane L. Shoos

This chapter examines how the conventions of the Gothic romance and the maternal melodrama in Dolores Claiborne foreground the systemic nature of women’s oppression and the abuser’s use of motherhood as a weapon, while ultimately offering female-female relationships and female violence as predictable solutions to abuse.

William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun and Cold War Hollywood Melodrama by Ben Robbins

This article analyzes William Faulkner’s 1951 prose drama hybrid narrative Requiem for a Nun as an adaptation of two “women’s films” that he worked on as a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940s, The Damned Don’t Cry (completed in 1941, released in 1950) and Mildred Pierce (completed in 1944, released in 1945). These melodramatic films explore themes of maternal sacrifice and reproduce a formula wherein female transgression beyond the strict boundaries of the home and the nuclear family is met with severe punishment. At the advent of the Cold War, Faulkner witnessed the repurposing of these films’ tropes in new Hollywood melodramas where the American family was upheld as a key component of national strength and integrity in combating the threat of Communist infiltration. Following this ideology, women were urged to embrace normative gender roles as wives and mothers in a system of “domestic containment.” In Requiem for a Nun Faulkner returned to the themes of the woman’s film in his own Hollywood-inspired melodrama. Far from creating an “homage,” however, Faulkner drew on the drive for social conformity inherent in the genre but redeployed its tropes in a subversive fashion to launch a strong critique of the aggressive Cold War domestic imperative. By doing so he anticipated the direction some Hollywood family melodramas would take in the 1950s, particularly the films of the director Douglas Sirk that similarly employed autocritical techniques to undermine Cold War domestic norms.

Unhomely Spaces and Transnational Networks of Kinship in Coin Locker Girl (2015) and Missing (2016) by Hye Jean Chung

Abstract

This essay analyzes two Korean films, Coin Locker Girl (Chinatown, Han Jun-hee, 2015) and Missing (Missing: Sarajin Yeoja, Lee Eon-hie, 2016), to consider how the films’ spaces exhibit traces of transnational mobility. Considering how various forms of border crossing and transnational exchanges affect changes in Korean society, this paper examines changing perceptions of kinship and alternative notions of family and home. These changes in networks of kinship and ideas of “homely” and “unhomely” spaces in Korean melodrama, I argue, is indicative of one’s shifting status or position in the “imagined community” of contemporary South Korea. I focus on “unhomely spaces,” or spaces that are “made strange,” in a broader attempt to analyze the spatial relations and representations of space in Korean films. These spaces, I contend, function as an emblem of complex networks of kinship that are created and maintained, or sometimes threatened and disintegrated by transnational exchanges that occur in contemporary Korean society.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, nautical melodramas were a popular genre of performance in London’s theatres. During his lifetime, Thomas Potter Cooke (1786–1864) was known as the last and best of stage sailors, and his portrayals of the British sailor became archetypal for many theatregoers. Cooke’s contemporary critics speculated about how his experience at sea informed his performances, which his audiences took great pleasure in. Cooke performed his most popular roles hundreds of times, and portraits of him in character were produced by and sold in London’s stationers. Examples of these ephemeral prints survive in museum collections, and are a useful source of information about the visual significance of performance. This article examines Cooke’s theatrical career and its critical reception. By using contemporary printed ephemera, this article explores how the developing theatrical culture in London both drew on and established ideas about British sailors and the navy. It reflects on how Cooke’s time at sea was used both by critics and the man himself in constructing a narrative beyond the stage. This article examines the pleasure that audiences and critics took in engaging with his Cooke’s embodiment of the British sailor, both on stage and off.

Horrible beauty and (un)easy submission: melodrama and the gothic in Calvary by Michael Stewart

This article examines Calvary (2014) as a gothic and melodramatic text – as an expression, more specifically, of pathetic melodrama and the Anglo-Irish gothic. As a pathetic melodrama, Calvary presents us with an apparently impassable situation, at the level of both the diegetic narrative and the historical present. It also exhibits considerable suffering and pathos. These melodramatic features are articulated via affect in familiar ways, so that the film reproduces the moral occult and a regressive nationalism. The article argues, though, that Calvary’s excesses are best understood as specific expressions of pathological melodrama, the bog gothic and the Cartesian gothic. In this respect, it is argued that Calvary’s ostensive – dense and allusive – dialogue is a form of speaking suffering – a dark, but potentially productive game. All of Calvary’s affective excesses, it is argued, are critical entities – ghostly witnesses, explosions and violent collisions of mind and body, which nonetheless cohere around particular histories, places and events. However much, then, Calvary may seem to accede to melodramatic redemption or gothic cliché, it is better understood, it is argued, as a form of submission – a necessary giving in and facing up to historical trauma and shame.