Tag Archives: articles

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.

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.

 

Fall 2017

Dangerous Playgrounds: Hemispheric Imaginaries and Domestic Insecurity in Contemporary US Tourism Narratives

by Daniel Lanza Rivers

Abstract

This article explores a network of “dangerous playgrounds” narratives amid the backdrop of then President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” and the revitalization of the “self-deportation movement” following the passage of SB1070. Tracing the journeys of young, white US American tourists traveling to Latin America to release their inhibitions, stories working in the dangerous playgrounds mode use figurations of insurrectionary violence to wed the narrative arc of the bildungsroman to the generic conventions of melodrama and horror, and so cast the Americas south of the US border as a source of danger to US American youth. By reading these narrative negotiations in relation to the legacies of US American hemispheric interventionism, post-9/11 immigration policy, and US American travel narratives, this article unpacks the ways Jessica Abel’s critically acclaimed comic La Perdida (2006) and the films Turistas (2006), Borderland (2007), The Ruins (2008), and Indigenous (2014) create slippages in meaning that project anxieties about terrorism and domestic security onto Latinx bodies and Latin American nations through figurations of imperiled white femininity. By using literary and cultural analysis to explore how popular sentiment, generic convention, and policy negotiations draw on, shape, and extend neo-Monroeist structures of feeling, this article ultimately finds that the emergence of domestic policies aimed at institutionalizing the surveillance of Latinx subjects arises in popular culture as a remarkably predictable narrative mode, which uses the conventions of adventure, melodrama, and horror to frame the nativist project of securing domestic borders and incarcerating and expelling undocumented Latinx subjects as one of the necessary compromises of a mature nation.

George Lippard’s “Theatre of Hell”: Apocalyptic Melodrama and Working-Class Spectatorship in the Quaker City

by Michael D’Alessandro

Abstract

This essay, “George Lippard’s ‘Theatre of Hell’: Apocalyptic Melodrama and Working-Class Spectatorship in the Quaker City,” centers on the best-selling sensation novel The Quaker City; or the Monks of Monk Hall (1844-45) and antebellum Philadelphia theatergoing. I claim that by reproducing climactic scenes from cheap-admission spectacle melodramas, Lippard activates the communion and the politics of working-class spectatorship within the reading experience itself. Several Quaker City scenes restage images of ruling-class collapse originating within Philadelphia’s working-class playhouses. Especially important is a dream sequence that follows the novel’s web-fingered, dwarfed doorman Devil-Bug and his fantasy about a crumbling Philadelphia monarchy. In this extended scene, Lippard imports and re-dramatizes earthquakes, revolutionary parades, storms, floods, and fires from several melodramas including The Last Days of Pompeii (1835), El Hyder, The Chief of the Ghaut Mountains (1839), and Undine, Spirit of the Waters (1841). In constructing Quaker City’s climactic motifs, Lippard attempts to galvanize a working-class, theatergoing readership already programmed to recognize the apocalyptic symbols of class conflict. More precisely, he seeks to channel this familiarity into an analogous overthrow of the ruling class in real life.

“Film Melodrama and Opera: La Tosca in Italian Cinema” by Bernhard Kuhn

Abstract:

This article focuses on the relationship between film melodrama and opera from an intermedial perspective. In addition to drawing on relevant literature in the fields of intermediality and melodrama studies, it incorporates literary and musicological theories. It argues that while opera and melodrama are related, the operatic and the melodramatic are distinct modes of artistic expression. Comparable to the melodramatic mode, the operatic mode appears in many media and is highly relevant for the Italian cinema. In the first part, the article distinguishes between the operatic and melodramatic mode and points to relevant elements of the relationship between melodrama, opera, and the Italian cinema. To illustrate significant aspects of this connection, the second part of this article reflects on two films based on Victorien Sardou’s drama La Tosca (1887): Carlo Koch’s Tosca (1941) and Luigi Magni’s La Tosca (1973). The two films incorporate operatic and melodramatic elements very differently. While in Koch’s version the musical discours is at times comparable to arias in opera, the film also incorporates instances of melodrama. Magni’s film, on the other hand, transforms Sardou’s drama into a musical film reminiscent of opera buffa. It communicates less on the affective level and rather evokes a cognitive reflection on Italy’s reality of the early 1970s.

Feels like home: Since You Went Away and the 1940s family melodrama

by Chad Newsom
Screen, Volume 58, Issue 3, 1 September 2017, Pages 285–308,
https://doi.org/10.1093/screen/hjx030

David O. Selznick’s Since You Went Away (John Cromwell, 1944) is a meandering, three-hour film about one year in the everyday life of an average American household while the father is away at war. The film prompted a flood of letters to Selznick from soldiers who saw in the film not only glimpses of their own homes and families but also a concrete reason to fight or even die in battle. In one of these letters a soldier tells a clumsy, long-winded anecdote that nonetheless ends with a punch. He recalls conversing with a young child and realizing that the child’s sense of reality was largely formed by Hollywood cinema’s image bank. Only a child, he initially assumes, would find such fiction credible. But the soldier then connects this anecdote to his experience of…

Spring 2017

Radio Preaching in Southern Appalachia by Rebecca Dean

Abstract:

Appalachian inspired Pentecostal radio preaching maintains the Protestant legacy
of that region first settled through the medium of radio. These sermons are characterized by high levels of affect in delivery, and serve to differentiate
“preacher culture” from those denominations that abandoned
their original heritage for admittance into middle class
status. Thus, preacher culture is an ac
t of both religious and class descent because they are “inspired” by the Holy
Spirit (that is, not composed before delivery). Gramscian not
ions of hegemony are used to interpret how “preacher
culture” has maintained itself since the settlement by the northern British and the Scots to Appalachia. The genre of
melodrama and “preacher culture” share significant parallel
s and content, dynamics of presentational styles, and
because of these basic parallels, theories of melodrama of
fer analytical methods for analysis of the content of the
inspired sermons and the way of life they elaborate. Gramscian notions of negotiation and consent are used to
analyze the maintenance of “preacher culture”, which maintains both tradition and cultural specificity that is
characteristic of southern Appalachia.

“Melodrama and Natural Science: Reading the “Greenwich Murder” in the Mid-Century Periodical Press” by Anne Rodrick

Abstract:

The “Greenwich Murder,” an 1846 infanticide and incest case, was covered extensively in the newspaper press. Reporters and editors employed both the language of melodrama and the language of the natural science lecture in order to help their readers understand how the arcane chemical data of the coroner’s inquest could reinforce the familiar tropes of good and evil embedded in domestic melodrama. This case demonstrates the ways in which these two competing frames existed in tension with one another and how journalistic practices began to change in order to accommodate readers’ appetites for complex criminal reporting.


Anarcho-Feminist Melodrama and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Claire T. Solomon

Abstract:

In her article “Anarcho-Feminist Melodrama and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (1929-2016)” Claire Solomon analyzes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope as an apparatus of capture (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand). More precisely, her article models how such tropes imply modes of reading anachronistically and metafictionally that decontextualize gestures of resistance and conflate female writers, performers, and characters across time and place. Solomon offers a situated formalist reading of Argentine playwright Salvadora Medina Onrubia’s 1929 drama, Las descentradas, revealing an avant-garde counterpoint of melodrama and metafiction as an ambiguous alternative to capture.


A postcolonial iconi-city: Re-reading Uttam Kumar’s cinema as metropolar melodrama” by Sayandeb Chowdhury

Abstract:

Since the early years of India’s emergence into a ‘post-colony’, the possibilities of the popular in Bengali cinema had to be renegotiated within the complex registers offered by a severely decimated cultural economy of the region. It could be claimed that by early 1950s, Bengali cinema’s negotiation of a linguistic and spatial equivalent of ‘disputed’ and ‘lost’ nation led to it trying to constantly spatialize Calcutta, offering several possibilities to reinterpret the metropolar visuality in and of the postcolonial city. Calcutta provided Bengali cinema a habitation, a metaphor of modernity and a spatial equivalent of a nation. A substantive share of Bengali cinema’s spatial turn was within the formal configurations of melodrama, the talisman of which was the star figure of Uttam Kumar. Kumar’s effortless urbanity stood vanguard to the popular-modern of postcolonial Bengali cinema, while his films also provided a sustained critique of the same. This article interrogates popular cinema from the vantage of the visualized space of the city. Drawing from space theory, melodrama and star studies, it interrogates the nature of the Bengali metropolitan-popular and would hope to provide a new understanding of cinema’s aesthetic institutionalization and narrative function within the scope of melodrama and stardom.


The poetics of Indian cinema: introduction by Sudhir Mahadevan and Anuja Jain

Screen Volume 58, Issue 1, 1 March 2017, Pages 59–63, https://doi.org/10.1093/screen/hjx005
Published:
04 April 2017

the poetics of any artistic medium studies the finished work as the result of a process of construction – a process that includes a craft component (such as rules of thumb), the more general principles according to which the work is composed, and its functions, effects, and uses.

…In this sense, all the contributions to this dossier attend to constructional devices…

Spring 2017

Bohyeong Kim

Abstract

This study explores the birth of the popular radio serial drama under the Cold War doctrine of national broadcasting in 1950s South Korea. By examining texts, critiques, production practices, and writers, I interrogate how the anti-Communism propaganda mandate was negotiated in radio drama, influenced not only by the South Korean government and the field of radio production but also by the U.S. cultural Cold War programs and Americanization. As the result of historical contingencies within radio-drama production, the propaganda mission of national broadcasting morphed into “vulgar” melodrama, focused on romantic triangles and urban lifestyles. Whereas themes contrasted with the government intention, the genre effectively supported the purposes of anti-Communist propaganda by promoting the American way of life, wherein individual freedom was identified with capitalist consumer modernity. In this vein, serialized melodrama heralded an important shift in radio propaganda from direct and overt anti-Communism to a more ambiguous and recreational direction. This complex process is considered in relation to Americanization of radio writers and the U.S. cultural Cold War efforts, such as the Broadcasters Exchange Program.

Registers of action: melodrama and film genre in 1930s India

Screen, Volume 58, Issue 1, 1 March 2017, Pages 64–72,

Is there some comparative and connected way of thinking through film genre, both in the local contexts of production and more regionally and globally? In the early period of Indian cinema there were key patterns of film circulation and, alongside the iconic ‘national’ genre of the mythological, it would appear that the action serial/stunt movie and adventure/fantasy film remained a staple attraction.1 While genre elaboration took place in the 1920s, with historical and social films becoming part of cinema’s attractions, it was only in the 1930s that the notion of ‘the social’ acquired a cultural cachet and reformist zeal, not just in one site but across colonial India’s multiple and overlapping language territories.2 A research agenda has emerged recently within film studies to unsettle this canonical account of cinema’s unfolding narrative.

In critical studies on historical television programmes, the affective qualities of televisual memory have been discussed mainly in terms of nostalgia. This article argues that conceptualizing the affective modes of relating to the past in more varied ways can help us to better understand the politics of memory on television. As a case study, the article analyses Finnish Broadcasting Company Yleisradio’s historical drama and documentary series that deal with the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union. The article identifies three affective modes in the programmes: irony, nostalgia and melodrama. Each of these modes offers different possibilities for critiquing, understanding and justifying the past. By studying televisual memories of the Soviet Union in a non-socialist country with important political, economic and cultural ties with the socialist bloc, the article moreover questions a clear East–West binary in studies on post-socialist memory.

Summer 2017

 Hasan and Marika:Screen Shots from a Vanishing Egypt’ 

Joel Gordon

Abstract:

This essay analyzes an Egyptian comedy film from the late 1950s as a window—one of the last cinematically—into the vanishing world of Egypt’s minority populations in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis and in the midst of nationalization and Egyptianization. Hasan and Marika (1959) focuses on one particular community, Egyptian Greeks. It borrows heavily from ethnic/religious minority tropes from the long-standing canon of Egyptian film and theater, in particular several classic works that deal with Muslim-Christian-Jewish pairings. It speaks to broader issues of what some scholars have noted to be a shifting or narrowing Levantine ethos. Concurrently, it raises questions about social and cultural transformations in the immediate postcolonial moment. This essay reads the film within the contexts of Egyptian social and cultural history, the position of the Greek community, ongoing limitations to true social integration, and historical questions about the Greek community’s demise. It also reads the film as a deliberate, if at times whimsical, commentary upon Egypt’s changing social landscape, comparing it to other works and later nostalgic depictions of Egypt’s lost multiculturalism.

 

“Beyond Sadness: The Multi-Emotional Trajectory of Melodrama”

Julian Hanich, Winfried Menninghaus, Steve Wilder

Abstract:

In this article we investigate the astonishing variety of emotions that a brief scene in a film melodrama can evoke. We thus take issue with the reductive view of melodrama that limits this genre’s emotional effects to sadness, pity, and tear-jerking potential. Through a close analysis of a melodramatic standard situation—a “news of death” scene—in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams (2003), we reveal the emotional dynamics and the high density as well as rich variety of affective phenomena likely to be experienced during the trajectory of this two-minute scene.


“‘She killed not from hate, but from love’: motherhood, melodrama and mercy killing in the case of May Brownhill” by Lizzie Seal

Abstract:

This article examines press portrayals of and public reactions to a ‘mercy killing’ in 1930s England. May Brownhill, sixty-two, killed her ‘invalid’ adult son by giving him an overdose of aspirin and poisoning him with coal gas. Through the conventions of melodrama, May was portrayed in the press as a respectable, devoted and self-sacrificial mother deserving of sympathy. The case also resonated with contemporary debates about euthanasia. It is an historical example of popular leniency, whereby although guilty of a crime, an individual is not seen as deserving of punishment. The case contributes to our understanding of how popular leniency was shaped by gender, class and age, and by contemporary views on ‘mercy killing’.


“Melodrama, Masochism, and Biopolitical Encounters in The Fosters by Jaime Brunton

Excerpt:
“Since the television drama The Fosters, which centers on the daily struggles of two lesbian moms (Stef Foster and Lena Adams) and their multi-ethnic family of foster and adoptive children, debuted on ABC Family in 2013, the show has garnered numerous awards and nominations, including honors from the Teen Choice Awards, The Television Academy, and the Television Critics Association. More notably, the show has been nominated for three awards by the Imagen Foundation (whose mission is “To encourage the positive portrayals of Latinos in all forms of the entertainment media”), has one win and two nominations from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards for Outstanding Drama series, as well as a GLAAD Vanguard Award for its executive producer, Jennifer Lopez. Add to this acclaim the show’s popularity, and its clear that The Fosters has struck a chord with American television audiences and critics. While part of the show’s appeal no doubt rests in its representations of LGBTQ people and people of color (as its awards suggest) and its dealing with topical issues such as gay marriage and racial profiling, it is also worth noting that the specific ways in which these issues are handles are also perhaps part of the attraction for audiences. Working against simplistic victim-perpetrator narratives, the show instead presents characters who work the biopolitical system from the inside—in ways that, in typical melodramatic fashion, are masochistic and destructive, and yet ultimately result in a complicated form of agency and power. In doing so, The Fosters offers a not-so-subtle critique of the biopolitical state as well as of traditional models of “resistance” to power.”

Replaying and Rediscovering The Octoroon by Lisa Merrill, Theresa Saxon

Excerpt:

For over 150 years, productions and adaptations of Irish playwright Dion Boucicault’s explosive 1859 melodrama The Octoroon have reflected differing and sometimes contentious meanings and messages about race and enslavement in a range of geographic locations and historical moments. In this melodrama, set on a plantation in Louisiana, audiences witness the drama of Zoe Peyton, a mixed-race, white-appearing heroine who learns after the sudden death of her owner/father that she has been relegated to the condition of “chattel property” belonging to the estate, since she was born of a mother who had herself been enslaved.2 Rather than submit to a new master after having been sold at auction, Zoe poisons herself and dies, graphically, onstage. [End Page 127]

The play is famous in the annals of theatre and performance history for reactions to its depiction of slavery in antebellum America, and for the various rewrites to which the script was subjected in a Britain that had already abolished the slave trade. In London, in 1861 Boucicault famously rewrote the ending, allowing the heroine to survive and be united with her white lover in another (presumably more just) country, ostensibly England. Critical accounts of this adaptation have relied upon newspaper reports, as the playscript itself was never published. Within a short time Boucicault changed the ending again, this time leaving Zoe silent in the arms of her lover as both witnessed the burning of the steamboat Magnolia. This four-act edition was published widely, and it and the original US version have formed the basis for most critical assessments of The Octoroon. A key assumption so far has been that this four-act version became an authoritative text for UK productions and thus Zoe died no more on British stages. But we have found this not to be the case.

Here, we discuss our archival discoveries of Octoroon promptbooks and playbills that reveal previously unknown aspects of the play’s stage history and critically illuminate the ways that the transatlantic theatre of the mid-nineteenth century portrayed enslaved mixed-race figures and interracial relationships. Although theatre historians have known about Boucicault’s original adaptation for over 150 years, no extant script for that original “British” version has heretofore been discovered. Now, however, our recent archival discoveries reveal portions of that long-missing script. At the University of Canterbury Kent we have discovered promptbooks of a later 1871 production of The Octoroon that provide specific textual evidence and blocking details that represent the first amended version as witnessed by London audiences a decade earlier, and described at the time in the London press. In addition, in the same archive we have uncovered evidence, which we discuss below, establishing that multiple versions of The Octoroon were being staged simultaneously, thereby further decentering nineteenth-century perceptions of both mixed-race bodies and contemporaneous binary definitions of race, thus complicating the received narratives of race and reception regarding this play.

Moreover, in other archives we have found evidence that The Octoroon appeared on the colonial stages of Australia a full ten months before it was staged in London and therefore before Boucicault changed the ending. Our exploration of the performance history of The Octoroon in Australia further illustrates the potential shifting meanings of racial categories and representations of enslavement in nations whose colonial histories were built on differing constructions of racist oppression, genocide, and slavery. Thus we discuss the ways that productions of The Octoroon have served as a unique vehicle for depicting the transatlantic and colonial cultural attitudes that surrounded, and tensions that emerged from, antebellum representations of racialization, racial hybridity, interracial desire, and enslavement on both sides of the Atlantic and across British colonies in Australia.

Furthermore, the actors’ promptbooks we have located contain several different endings written into the same script. Such promptbooks demonstrate the tensions between archive and repertoire so powerfully articulated by Diana Taylor.3 Although constructed in the form of printed scripts, these objects were used repeatedly by a number of…