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Melodrama IS CHC“…melodrama is a peculiarly democratic and Americanform that seeks dramatic revelation of moral andemotional truths through a dialectic of pathos and action.It is the foundation of the classical Hollywood move.” Linda Williams, “Melodrama Revised”
What is CHC?Classical Hollywood Cinema (CHC) is defined bycontinuity editing with goals of— Clarity—spatial, temporal and narrative Identification (star system and emotional pathos) Conflict (misrecognition leads to clarity, authority) Spectacle (impressive to look at/listen to)
Melodramatic Mode How does cinema get the audience to feel?Williams: “cinematic effects…operate in the service ofmelodramatic affects”—a “dialectic of pathos & action.”Effects:Mise-en-scene, music, close-ups, low angles, wide angles,Editing for “too late” and “in the nick of time.”Affects:Loneliness, suffering, injustice/justice, empathy, pathos,suspenseAudience knows more than the victim & may identify with manycharacters. The King’s Speech
Spielburg’s Close-Ups Kevin B. Lee’s film essay—the Spielburg face.
Is it OK to cry at a film? “the surprising power of identifying with victimhood” What happens when we identify with Stella Dallas, standing in the rain outside of her daughter’s wedding? Can we both identify with her sadness and feel some critical anger as well? Is Stella feeling both things? “unlike tragedy…rather than raging against a fate that the audience has learned to accept, the female hero often accepts a fate that the audience at least partially questions” (Williams 47)
Progressive or Regressive Emotions? Audience is not naively identifying only with emotion. (Well, maybe on the Hannity show…) Melodrama is “a complex negotiation between emotion and thought.” (Williams 49) Do not mistake melodrama for “failed tragedy or inadequate realism” (Williams 50) Look for moments of narrative or cinematic contradiction— where truth shines through the character’s (or American culture’s) belief that it is the “locus of innocence and virtue” (and, of course--power)
Limits of representation musical loss and return Melodramatic music (often) delivers an opening base (or tonic) in original key, then digressions and a final return (with musical teases) to the opening key. In CHC music proves that “virtue and truth can be achieved in ..individual heroic acts rather than, as Eisenstein wanted, in revolution and change. Sergei Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence Spielburg’s Schindler’s Bach or Mozart?
“All Art constantly aspires to the condition of music.” Walter Pater Film music and utopia: “Music extends an impression of perfection and integrity in an otherwise imperfect, unintegrated world.” Flinn, p. 9 Meanings for music go back to Plato (music=social unrest), St. Augustine (rhythm=spiritual completion). Because music has no system of signification, it is both praised and seen as threatening—excessive in meaning. Musicals create utopic/dystopic spaces—Wizard of Oz, Glee
Female body and Fabric “ The magic that Loie Fuller creates, with instinct, with exaggeration, the contraction of skirt or wing, instituting a place. The enchantress creates the ambience, draws it out of herself and goes into it, in the palpitating silence of crepe de chine.” Mallarme played in French with similarities between the sound of words soi (herself) and soie (silk). Stephane Mallarme (1893)
Embodied difference— dance=public persona The Cakewalk—Parodic dance ofwhiteys and/oradapted fromSeminole Indians.First public dancewithout makeup forblack women andmen
How to get womeninto the cinema?Puffed Sleeves by Adrian inLetty Lynton (1932) Macy’s sold 500,000 copies in their“Cinema Shop”Did they really…?
1950sGet me out of those ruffles! Gamineinnocence ?Stick me in thesuburbs…