Tag Archives: articles

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.

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.

Summer 2019

Indiscretions of an Italian Lover: Montgomery Clift, Masculinity, and Melodrama

in The Italianist
by Sam Gaglio

Abstract: This article utilizes production documents found in the David O. Selznick
Collection to explore the role of masculinity as it is constructed in Stazione Termini (1953). More specifically, it seeks to reframe Montgomery Clift, the film’s lead actor, as an inetto: an inept masculine character who repeatedly submits to the commands of both Mary, his lover, and her adolescent nephew, Paul. Traditionally an archetype found in Italian comedy, Clift’s performance exemplifies the role of the inetto in the context of melodrama. While the comedic inetto demands centre stage in its film, the melodramatic inetto is instead pushed into the periphery, queering the heteronormative representation of the male leading character and undermining traditional notions of masculinity. The production files reinforce this reading.

Courtroom Melodrama: Dramatizing Characters and Audiences in A Tale of Two Cities

in Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature
by Brittany Reid

Abstract:In the preface to A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens recalls that he conceived of the idea for the novel while staging a scene from Collins’ play The Frozen Deep with his children. Building on this account of the story’s theatrical inspiration, public displays or acts of performance are prominently featured throughout the novel and punctuate moments of collective unrest, false behavior, or political corruption. From the showcasing of the guillotine executions to the characterization of crowds as active audiences, dramatic tropes, forms, and terms are frequently employed throughout the text. This article explores the theatrical imagery of A Tale of Two Cities as it communicates a political statement, contributes to the narrative as a whole, and engages with established dramatic traditions from the period, such as melodrama. To that end, it specifically considers the use of melodramatic conventions in the court scenes to demonstrate Dickens’s “politics of performance” in the novel.

Darkness in the spotlight: Binaries and brutality in Zhang Yimou’s ‘Shadow’

in Metro Magazine: Media and Education Magazine
by Debbie Zhou

Abstract: While Zhang Yimou’s latest Wuxia offering bears the hallmark action and melodrama elements of his earlier work, it stands apart in terms of visuals, featuring a subdued, largely monochromatic palette and unfurling, brushstroke-like compositions. With this calculated stylistic move, the Chinese director allows the violence, corruption and conflict at the core of his historical tale to starkly taint each frame

“Melodrama, Purimspiel, and Jewish Emancipation”

in Victorian Literature and Culture

by Sharon Aronofsky Weltman

Abstract

Long forgotten, Elizabeth Polack (fl. 1835–43) is the earliest known Jewish woman playwright in England. This essay argues that her first play, Esther, the Royal Jewess, or the Death of Haman! (1835), performed at a public playhouse in the Jewish working-class neighborhood of London’s East End, radically realigns diverse genres and populations in advocating both Jewish emancipation and a voice for women. By way of a very brief introduction, I first point out the applicability here of Judith Butler’s Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Butler explores how group protest, such as Tahir Square or Occupy Wall Street, serves as a kind of communal bodily signification. Of course, her point is not to address how people come together in a public theater, where the cast arrives daily for salaried jobs and the audience plunks down cold cash for a fun night out. Yet something else meaningful can occur in assembly within the theater. Theatrical performances can take on the discursive power of political assembly that Butler defines, signifying “in excess of what is said,” bringing actors and audience together with potentially political valence. Butler helps us understand the stakes of theatrical performance and public assembly and why it is important to examine Esther, the Royal Jewess beyond recovering a neglected author, though that too is part of my object.

Spring 2019

“A Mere Victim of Feeling”:Women’s Tears and the Crisis of Lineage in Middlemarch

by Nancy Marck Cantwell

in Victorian Review

Excerpt:

In George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872), women’s tears play an underestimated but critical role in the language of flow and circulation that characterizes nineteenth-century human connectedness. Inherited traits prompt many of the novel’s crises; as bodily fluids, women’s tears define lineage as so indelible that, as Julia Kristeva observes, “the unbearable identity of the narrator … can no longer be narrated but cries out” (141; emphasis in original). Tears both circulate the shame of inherited traits and demonstrate the frustration Victorian women feel at the impossibility of escaping their bloodlines.

Tears had strong performative purchase for the Victorians, signifying a range of intense emotional responses, from hysterical overwhelm to profound grief and moral regeneration, and becoming hallmarks of sensation fiction and melodrama. In contrast to authors of these popular genres, which paired tears with heightened emotions, Eliot pursues a more scientific interest in these bodily fluids as they manifest each person’s history of inherited traits. Her use of tears in Middlemarch also draws on their rich literary history, as tears register tragic self-awareness in Shakespeare, illustrate “penitential weeping” in Herbert, and “communicate forgiveness” in Blake (Lafford 118). Tom Lutz, in his cultural history of tears, begins by observing “the association of tears with renewal” (3), and critics writing about Eliot’s efforts to foster a sympathetic response are quick to see tearful scenes in her novels as diffusing compassion as well as self-awareness.

 

Melodrama: The Role of Imitation, Melody, Speech, and Gesture in a Post-Enlightenment “Mixed Form”

by Monique Rooney

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature

Abstract:

Melodrama is a mixed or transmedial artform that, having migrated from stage to film, television and digital screens, typically combines plastic arts (tableau, mise en scène, filmic close-up, sculptural poses) with performative arts (stage and screen acting, declamation, singing, orchestral or other music). It emerged first in the 18th century when Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote and composed his “scène lyrique” Pygmalion, a formally innovative and experimental adaptation of the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the context of the speculative and neoAristotelian ideas that Rousseau contributed to public debate about the significance of imitation or mimesis in the development of language, Rousseau’s foundational melodrama represented the coming-to-life of Pygmalion’s beloved statue, Galatea, as a mimetic scene in which metamorphosis takes place through the statue’s responsiveness to the artist and vice versa. More than simply a theme, imitation is intrinsic to the musical-dramatic and, thus, transmedial structure of the ur-melodrama, through which the alternation of spoken lyric with musical phrasing was intended to draw attention to the mimetic role of vocal accent within the arrangement. This aesthetic structure opened the possibility of representing a diversity of voices on the metropolitan stage and beyond. Since its Enlightenment-era beginnings, the mixed form of melodrama has persisted even as it has been transformed in its itinerary from the 18th century to the early 21st century, transmedially adapting to new modalities and formats as it has moved from stage to print formats and then to film, television, and digital platforms. The transmedial form and reach of melodrama is discernible in latter-day performance and film, in which the mixed form—particularly vocal accent, melody, and gesture—continue to disrupt normative identities and hegemonic systems.

“Cartography of Representation: Western Melodrama and Indian Cinema”

in International Journal of Management & Social Science

by Bannerjee Baishakhi

Understanding the melodramatic intervention in Indian cinema would require us to reformulate the insights of Western melodramatic studies. But it is essential to remember that any attempt to sum up the theoretical formulation of the Western melodramatic studies is a mammoth task and might end up in formulating certain simplistic and generalized observations. The situation becomes all the more complicated when we try to comprehend the nature of melodramatic interventions in Indian cinemas because melodramatic situations differ from county to country. It is essentially a historically and socially conditioned mode of experience. So what may constitute a melodramatic mode of expression in the West may not be the same in India. This paper seeks to narrate the conflict and confrontation between the sacred and the secular and how differently they are perceived by the two countries. In the final analysis, the paper deals with the interface between the Western concept of melodrama and its influence on Indian cinema and how the great Indian directors incorporate indigenous forms of melodrama to overcome that influence.

“Bernard Shaw’s Unproduced Melodrama: The Gadfly, or The Son of the Cardinal”

in English Literature in Translation: 1880-1920

by Stanley Weintraub

Abstract

On 23 March 1898, Bernard Shaw arranged a “copyright performance” of a new play advertised as at the Victoria Hall in Bayswater. Typical for uncommercial exposure, the script was stapled between brown endpapers. Unlike another of his plays also “performed” then to protect the copyright, the delicious farce You Never Can Tell, the melodramatic The Gadfly then vanished from the English stage. He had been asked by Ethel Voynich to adapt her novel for a single, minimally advertised performance to secure it from exploitation by hack dramatists always on the prowl for such prey. This article offers a discussion of all that surrounds the writing of the play, with a close exegesis of the The Gadfly, or The Son of the Cardinal.

“Melodrama, Sex, Beaches, and Other Interests”

in Michael Winterbottom

by Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

Abstract

A film such as Go Now, made for television but shown in cinemas in some countries, is a case in point: it exhibits some of the informing traits of melodrama but its treatment is in certain essentials realistic, avoiding the gratifications of melodrama, at least as the mode is practised in Hollywood cinema. With or Without You raises expectations of romantic comedy but deflects – or dissipates – these with a surprising acridity of tone; and the noir-influenced I Want You hovers between thriller and erotic drama. Realist sex and concert scenes, to the point where there is almost a whiff of documentary in the film’s short footage, but it also has a vestigial narrative continuity. As in so many of Winter-bottom’s films, there are insistent stress on movement, an almost mandatory beach scene as a somewhat simplistic signifier of release and ‘naturalness’, and stress on music.

“The Spectacle of Affect: Postwar South Korean Melodrama Films”

in East Asian Transwar Popular Culture

by Kelly Y. Jeong

This chapter explores the melodramas of Korea’s cinematic golden age, particularly focusing on those from the 1950s. They abound with narratives fissures, ruptures, and heterodoxy from gender and cultural norms, and their narratives unfold through a hybridity of genres, to create more nuanced works that seem to self-reflect or even subversively play off the genre rules and conventions of melodrama. In looking at this group of films, I argue that they comprise a spectacle of affect. I first focus on the empty mise-en-scène, a feature often exhibited by the decade’s films that brings their generic hybridity and experimental filmmaking into relief, then trace the meaning and place of sinp’a (new wave) in postwar cinema, which will lead to the conclusion that, for postwar South Korean filmmakers—and for the audiences that loved their films—the West, represented by America, was a source of cinematic imagination and an awe-inspiring sublimity.

“Feminine spaces of memory: Mourning and melodrama in Para que no me olvides (2005)”

in Hispanic and Lusophone Women Filmmakers

by Patricia Ferreira

Coinciding with the excavations of the Spanish Civil War’s mass graves, media is playing a crucial role in the construction and dissemination of ‘spaces of memory’ of the war. This chapter discusses the contribution of Patricia Ferreira, who in her Para que no me olvides, relocates in the present the collective response to loss and pain caused by the war, as well as the subsequent oblivion and remembrance, all from an individual perspective that attempts to connect personal trauma to socio-political awareness, while bridging the differences of three generations of Spaniards. Ferreira’s melodramatic mode provides a means through which individual memory can become official history, as well as a potential therapeutic model for dealing with the trauma. The film articulates the unfulfilled needs of individual Republican victims and exposes the still incomplete collective and institutional work of mourning implicit in the shortcomings of Law of Historical Memory project.

Melodrama”

in Journal of Singing

by Leslie De’Ath

The lines of demarcation between the subdisciplines of voice pedagogy are porous. The siloed nature of the standing columns in the Journal of Singing on occasion call for an intradisciplinary flexibility of approach, just as any college music program must be on guard against an array of courses that give the impression that they have little to do with one another…Studies of specific repertoire usually appear as feature articles in the Journal of Singing, but on occasion, those with a particular focus on text have been issued under the “Language and Diction” rubric. The present article is a case in point. It focuses on melodrama–an often overlooked genre, in which the text and its style of delivery are crucial to a persuasive performance.

“Mediating Melodrama, Staging Sergeant Cuff”

in Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film

by Isabel Stowell-Kaplan

When Sergeant Cuff stepped off the page and onto the stage of the Olympic Theatre in Wilkie Collins’s 1877 adaptation of his own wildly successful novel, The Moonstone, he both joined the earliest ranks of the British stage detective and entered the world of melodrama. Though we might expect the rational figure of a detective such as Sergeant Cuff to be incompatible with the emotional excess of melodrama, in this article I show that such an assumption oversimplifies his relationship to melodramatic emotion and overlooks the surprising compatibility of the detective with melodrama’s epistemological and moral investments. I argue that in distinct contrast to the ambiguity and multiplicity instilled by the novel, Cuff allows for the clear resolution expected on the melodramatic stage, proving himself an agent of and for melodramatic style and substance.

Fall 2018

One Evening in Mayotte

By: Lee Haring

Marvels and Tales 32.1

Excerpt:

Melodrama

Making the local women his concubines is not only a wink at the men listening. The move also links to the narrator’s final story, which begins with an argument about them between Kôto and his jealous wife: “I warn you, Kôto, you have mistresses, you’re not a good husband. Can you marry the whole village? I want some explanations, Kôto!” The teller now reveals the ending he will use: “Kôto-finally the king’s daughter is going to kill him, he’s not aware of the situation.” Already we are in a different genre. Even when they tell the most familiar trickster tales, African, Malagasy, and Mahorais storytellers never give away the endings. The switch in genre is worthy of Kôto himself: to launch his final story (over 4,000 words long), he will narrate in a different genre. He adapts into the trickster context the conspiring schemes and vituperative dialogue of screen melodrama, film noir in particular. Generically no doubt, the Philip Marlowe or Maigret of film, ever marginal, ever the social critic, is a descendant of trickster (Paulme 33). Perhaps some zealous cinéaste will uncover a specific source for this part of the Mahorais tale; one could look in the combination of pessimism and romance of the Popular Front films, or the dialogue style of post-World War Two thrillers by Henri-Georges Clouzot or Yves Allégret. But even without a specific source text, the Hakoa narrator shows great skill, in the middle of a religious celebration, in adapting cinematic dialogue and character relations to a solo performance. Is his genre switch anti-traditional? Hardly: in Mayotte, the frequent language-mixing sets the model for genre-mixing in verbal art.

 

Space and Place in Alejandro Galindo’s 1950 Film Adaptation of Benito Pérez Galdós’s Doña Perfecta (1876)

By: Rhian Davies

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 95:4

Abstract

In his 1950 film adaptation of Galdós’s 1876 novel Doña Perfecta the Mexican director Alejandro Galindo transferred the action from the imaginary Spanish city of Orbajosa to Santa Fe in Mexico. To date critics have focussed largely upon assessing the ‘Mexicanism’ of the film, coming to the conclusion that the film, like the novel, is an overblown melodrama. This article will now pay close attention to the artistic qualities of the film, specifically its use of space and place, and will seek to demonstrate how Galindo, responding as a reader of Galdós’s novel, produces a work that not only invites new ways of reading Doña Perfecta but also highlights its timelessness and universality.

“The Makings of a Contradictory Franchise: Revolutionary Melodrama and Cynicism in The Hunger Games”

By: Joe Tompkins
JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies

 

Abstract:

This article examines The Hunger Games franchise (THG) as a case study for how capitalist media cynically mobilize revolutionary desire as a commercial strategy. It integrates ideology critique and media-industry analysis to examine THG as a melodramatic fantasy that, on the one hand, bids spectators to enjoy the act of desiring class revolution in the films while, on the other hand, deploying various textual and paratextual strategies that invite audiences to be cynical about such desire. As such, THG epitomizes the contradictions of spectacular “revolution”: asking viewers to simultaneously buy into and deconstruct the mediated pleasures of class war.

Spectral Spectacle: Traps, Disappearances, and Disembodiment in Nineteenth-Century British Melodrama

by: Eliza Dickinson Urban

Abstract: Two nineteenth-century melodramas, J.R. Planché’s The Vampire (1820) and Dion Boucicault’s The Corsican Brothers (1852) exert a haunting influence on how we in the present conceptualise ghosts. Through rendering the seemingly invisible – that is, the ghostly body – spectacular through technology, while simultaneously concealing the mechanism behind that feat, the plays’ eponymous traps heighten the effect of the spectral even as their workings elude visual perception. My study elucidates the mediation of the traps through other facets of production. To accomplish this task, I undertake a phenomenological inquiry into the play’s sound, lighting, and scene design via an examination of the plays’ production materials as well as modern reconstructions of the traps. The sensory signifiers associated with the traps, including musical motifs and lighting cues, linger in the public consciousness even when the technology behind them has been rendered obsolete by later technological iterations.

 

 

 

Spring 2018

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

Abstract
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

Abstract

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

Abstract

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

Abstract

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

Abstract

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 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.