Joan goes to Hollywood: Cecil B. DeMille’s Joan the Woman (1916) as Heritage Melodrama
by Dan Clarke
Joan of Arc is as much an artistic muse as she is an historical figure, a view widely reflected in critical discussion on her persistence in the cultural imagination. In her study, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, Marina Warner writes:
[Joan] is literally a cypher. Just as a feather in the cap, green doublet and hose and a merry gallantry signify the figure of Robin Hood, so Joan is instantly present in the mind’s eye: a boyish stance, cropped hair, medievalised clothes, armour an air of spiritual exaltation mixed with physical courage.
Warner’s reading neatly encapsulates the notion that there is an idea of Joan of Arc, one based upon consensually recognised aspects of her hagiography and iconography. Building upon the premise of a female acolyte of God sent to save medieval France in its hour of need, artists rework new versions of her character and narrative to fit their various political agendas. As Susan Hayward writes, ‘[…] each interpretation is designed to suit the ideological cloth of either the filmmaker or the nation producing the film.’
Hong Kong in the Hollywood imaginary: Deterritorialization and reterritorialization in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow and The Killer
by Wimal Dissanayake
This article examines the way Hong Kong figures in the Hollywood imaginary by examining John Woo’s films A Better Tomorrow and The Killer. For the purpose of my investigation, I show how the two films exemplify the twin concepts of deterritorialization and reterritorialization with regard to a variety of analytical categories including genre, gender, values, somatic pleasure, affect, melodrama, religion, nostalgia, morals, and the social and cultural context. My analysis demonstrates the hybrid nature of John Woo’s films and provides evidence that cultural identities are flexible and change as they are faced with different contexts and challenges.
Televisual Experiences of Iran’s Isolation: Turkish Melodrama and Homegrown Comedy in the Sanctions Era
by Pedram Partovi
This essay examines the television viewing habits of Iranians since 2010, when the first of a series of crippling international sanctions were imposed on Iran after diplomatic efforts to curb the country’s nuclear program stalled. Like many others in the region, viewers in Iran have been swept up by the recent wave of Turkish serials, which a new generation of offshore private networks dubbed into Persian and beamed to households with illegal satellite television dishes. These glossy melodramas provided access to consumerist utopias increasingly beyond the reach of Iranians living under the shadow of sanctions. Despite the enormous popularity of Turkish television imports with Iranian audiences, the Islamic Republic’s networks managed to broadcast some successful “counter-programming” during this era of economic and political isolation. The comedy Paytakht/Capital (2011–15), more specifically, eschewed the glamour and glitz of many Turkish serials for ordinary characters living rather ordinary lives in small town Iran. In doing so, the series highlighted not only the problems that the sanctions regime created or exacerbated in Iranian society but also the virtues of remaining on the margins of a neoliberal global economic order. The essay concludes by asking how Iranian audiences might enjoy both Capital and Turkish melodramas simultaneously.
Hearing the Difference: Sexuality, Xenophobia, and South African Melodrama by Madhumita Lahiri
This essay demonstrates the political exigency of melodramatic cinema in twenty-first-century South Africa, focusing on the short film cane/cain (dir. Joradache A. Ellapen, 2011) and the feature film Zulu Love Letter (dir. Ramadan Suleman, 2004). I a4gue that the displacement of speech in these films–signaled in cane/cain‘s homonymic title and in Zulu Love Letter’s seemingly logocentric one–suggests a powerful challenge to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s model of producing national truth through spoken testimony. Building on this insight, I examine how cane/cain narrativizes the problem of xenophobic violence in democratic South Africa by conjoining the experiences of minority ethnicity and minority sexuality. Connecting this filmic vision with the scholarship on xenophobic violence, I argue that the deployment of male-male sexual desire across the divide of national origin enables the characters of cane/cain to encourage more complex audience relations to those perceived as foreigners. Wheras a singular focus on decrying xenophobia might suggest that the solution would be a xenophilic position, cane/cain points to the interplay of identification and desire, even if disavowed, across politicized lines of national difference.
A Forcible Return to the Womb: Elfriede Jelinek’s Lust (1989) and the Melodramatic Mode
by Claire E. Scott
This article explores the interplay between the genre conventions of pornography and melodrama in Elfriede Jelinek’s novel Lust. Moving beyond readings that focus on this text as a work of anti‐pornography, this article uses close readings of the novel’s melodramatic narratorial techniques to argue that Jelinek’s social critique involves more than an unmasking of sexual violence. Ultimately, Jelinek contends with the way literary modes restrict our ability to represent women as anything other than objectified victims. Jelinek reveals the limitations of both pornographic and melodramatic tropes by implicating her readers in the violence of the text and denying them access to the anticipated telos of both of these modes. When the protagonist unexpectedly kills her young son, it provides not a miraculous liberation from androcentric oppression, but rather a necessary pause for reflection and an opportunity for imagining a feminist political rebirth.
“Irish Nights”: Paratheatrical Performances of Melodrama on and off the Belfast Stage
by Mark Phelan
Until relatively recently, melodrama has been an unfairly maligned genre of theatre history; its pejorative associations based on the prejudiced assumptions that its aesthetics of excess (in terms of its extravagant emotion, sensationalism and popularity amongst predominantly working class audiences) meant, therefore, that it was for simpletons. What Walter Benjamin excoriated as the “ancient lament that the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator” fuelled bourgeois disdain for this theatrical form and the derision of the Theatrical Inquisitor’s dismissal of melodrama as “aris[ing] from an inertness in the minds of the spectators, and a wish to be amused without the slightest exertion on their own parts, or any exercise whatever of their intellectual powers” remained the dominant critical response throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, such views continued well into the twentieth century and certainly characterized the modernist reactions of the founding figures of the Irish national theatre in this period. Frank Fay, cofounder of the National Dramatic Society, denounced both the aesthetics of Dublin’s Queen’s Theatre as the “home of the shoddiest kind of melodrama,” and the intelligence of its audiences who, “wouldn’t, at present, understand anything else.”
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
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 rabbnical 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.