Tag Archives: articles

Fall 2017

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

by Daniel Lanza Rivers


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


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


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,

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


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


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


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


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
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


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


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


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


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

“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


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…