Melodrama Read-through and Discussion, 5th of June, Jarman 7, 5-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the fifth of the Summer Term’s discussion sessions, and our very first read-through, which will take place on the 5th of June, Jarman 7, from 5-7pm.


Jane is very kindly organising us for a read through of a melodrama play, and has provided the following information:

With a slightly different focus to our usual film-fare, this week we will be looking at an unpublished script for an early twentieth century stage melodrama, A Girl’s Cross Roads by Walter and Frederick Melville. The University’s Special Collections holds materials from the Melville family which reflect their influential standing in Victorian and Edwardian theatre.

The brothers Walter and Frederick Melville were part of the third generation of the Melville theatrical dynasty and, along with their four sisters and two brothers, were stalwarts of the stage as actors, directors, writers and owners and managers of theatres. Walter and Fred were particularly successful in London, where they owned and ran the Lyceum theatre from 1909 until 1939. They also had the Prince’s Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, built in 1911; this was later renamed the Shaftesbury Theatre.

The Melville brothers were hugely successful businessmen, eminently capable of producing hit dramas which pulled in the crowds. Their stock in trade was the winter pantomime, the details of which were famously kept a secret until the latest possible moment, and, of course, the Melville melodrama.

Although the Melvilles staged and adapted a number of popular melodramas in their time – including Sweeney Todd, East Lynne and The Count of Monte Cristo – it was a specific type of play for which Walter and Fred became particularly famous. These were called the Bad Women dramas, since they usually portrayed an immoral woman, often one of the villains, in contrast to a morally upright though perhaps downtrodden heroine. Considering that these plays were hugely successful from c.1838-1912, when campaigns for women’s emancipation were gaining momentum, it might be thought that these plays were a comment on the times. Some audience members evidently thought so, since Walter was obliged to write to a newspaper to explain that he was not ‘a woman hater’. In fact, the roles which his plays offered to actresses could be far better roles than they could take in less controversial dramas.

stageland07dA Girl’s Cross Roads was first performed in 1903, probably at the Standard Theatre in Shoreditch. The plot tells the tale of Jack Livingstone, a well off gentleman, and his wife, Barbara Wade, a woman who is convinced that Jack made a mistake in marrying her.  Jack’s friend Dr. Weston, who tells the sad tale of a woman who drank herself to death, is sure that he’s seen that look on Barbara’s face before; meanwhile the girl whom both Weston and Jack were in love with (and perhaps still are), Constance, has decided to leave the countryside to make a new life in London. The villains of the piece are quick to take advantage of Barbara’s fears, leading her down a path from which there is no return. Running alongside the main plot and intersecting with the other characters, a father looks for his daughter only to be appalled by what he finds, and the comic couple Toby and Tilly try to make their way in the world. Moving from the English countryside to the heart of London, the play takes in themes of the time including alcoholism, murder, intrigue and extortion in the thrilling ride of a typical Melville melodrama with tragedy, comedy and expertly handled suspense. This particular play is interesting, since it deals with fewer absolutes in terms of morally right or wrong, and calls into question the simplistic expectations from the audience of the popular stage.

As far as we know, none of the Melville scripts, including the Bad Women dramas, have ever been published and there has been very little research into them. This read through on the 5th June will be the first time this play has been performed in any sense for a considerable time – perhaps since the last time it was performed on stage. This will be a great opportunity to return to the days of high melodrama and perhaps confront some of our perceptions of the stereotypical stage melodrama.

Do join us if you can, for a wonderful opportunity to actively engage with some melodrama history.

Summary of Discussion on Happy Together

Posted by Sarah

Our discussion extended into several different areas: Happy Together’s melodramatic elements; the importance of home and family to melodrama and to Happy Together; the Argentine setting;  aspects of the film which negated the melodramatic elements; Wong Kar Wai; the articles by Kenneth Chan and Thomas Elsaesser; melodrama and excess vs restraint. As ever, do leave comments, or email me on to add your thoughts.

Happy Together roadWe began by moving from the very general question we’ve often asked ‘What is melodrama?’ to ‘Is this particular film a melodrama?’ Some aspects of the film certainly fitted in with our understanding of melodrama: the suffering endured by ill-fated lovers Lai (Tony Leung) and Ho (Leslie Cheung) often expressed by tears; the exaggerated melodramatic gestures used by the actors when the couple lose their way (perhaps metaphorically as well as literally) on the road, as well as some of their other, more physical fights; the coincidences which occur throughout the film as Ho always manages to find Lai, and Lai runs into Chang’s family in Taipei.

Notions of home and the family were central to Happy Together. It was commented on that this was related to the family or domestic melodrama which Thomas Elsaesser focused on in his ‘Tales of Sound and Fury’ article. Home was less connected to Lai’s bedsit in which a fair amount of the film took place, than the fact the three main characters all wanted to leave Argentina to return to Hong Kong or Taiwan. This was Happy Together tangodespite the fact that the culture of Argentina welcomed the main couple (the tango after all was first performed between male partners). It was thought important to consider that while the film must be contextualised within Chinese and Hong Kong melodrama (as Chan’s article does), the Argentine setting was also significant. However, it is true that the Hong Kong community had a strong presence in the film’s portrayal of Argentina. The focus on people rather than places was also seen in the assertion that family make home what it is. When Lai meets Chang’s family he says that he can see why Chang is happy to travel. At first this appears insulting, but he goes on to explain that this is because he has the security of his family to come back to. Conversely Lai’s father is disappointed in his son’s behaviour.

However, other elements of the film negate the melodramatic connections. Stylistically the film does not seem very emotional or melodramatic. The black and white cinematography which is used for much of the film denotes a documentary aesthetic. This associates the film more strongly with realism. The characters’ voice overs reinforce this as at times they help to explain the on screen action. The main voice over is Lai’s which in itself might link to melodrama and the fact this is his story. But the appearance of other voice overs skews this focus.

The melodrama is also downplayed by the cyclical nature of the narrative. The film restages similar situations (often focusing on strong emotions such as jealousy and passion) fairly regularly, but these also revolve around quite mundane situations. Little is ever resolved. Fights begin but do not always reach a dramatic climax, either because the other half of the couple does not wish to argue, storms out, or the film cuts away – sometimes to completely unrelated scenes. In addition, at times the film suggests connections through its editing, but these go nowhere. A lingering shot of Lai washing blood from the outside the abattoir he works at is juxtaposed with a scene of Ho scrubbing the bedsit floor and crying. It was thought at first by some that perhaps Ho written on the windhad killed Lai and this was the cause of his tears. Yet this was not followed up in the film. Happy Together’s cyclical pattern was compared to that of some of Douglas Sirk’s films, and the family/domestic melodrama more generally. In both Wai and Sirk’s films the characters are tragic figures who do not learn from their mistakes, though in Wai’s film the patterning is at a more narrative level. Indeed, this compulsion to ‘start over again’ is a key theme of Happy Together as Lai is always being persuaded to do just this by his on-off boyfriend.

Happy Together FallsThis inability to resolve extends to the film’s ‘false ending’. At a point quite near to the actual ending of the film, Lai revisits the Falls which have played a key symbolic role in the film. Yet this is not the conclusion to the film: Lai then visits Taipei on his way home to Hong Kong, and Chang visits the lighthouse to try to lose Lai’s sadness. This happy ending seems added on and somewhat negates the melodramatic elements. It was also commented upon that the fact no one commits suicide at the lighthouse (which was initially how some of us interpreted it as a place for  ‘leaving sadness behind’) makes it less melodramatic, as does the fact, unusually for a gay drama of the 1990s, none of the characters die.

It was also remarked upon that, as Kenneth Chan noted in his article, the film’s editing was particularly important. Indeed much of the film’s dramatic power originated in its editing as well as its subject matter. While the film’s pace was slow at times, at others it was very snappy – especially the speeded up scenes of public spaces which seemed unrelated to much of the ‘action’ and indeed to melodrama.

We also discussed Wong Kar Wai as an auteur. On a broad level, the notion of Hong Kong heritage and identity is clearly a main focus of his work. The symbolism of the Falls as an example of Wai’s wider concern with pathetic fallacy was more closely linked to melodrama, however. The ‘false ending’ intercuts scenes of Lai’s return to the Falls, his face saturated with spray, and those of Ho at the bedsit, crying. The symbolism was compared to similar instances in Wai’s works Chungking Express (1994) and In the Mood for Love (2000).

in the mood for love

Comments were made on Elsaesser’s 1972 article.  This relates to Wai due to the director’s status as an auteur and Elsaesser’s focus on auteurism. Elsaesser was clearly very influenced by Cahiers du Cinema and the examination of mise en scene for symbolism. In Happy Together this is mostly represented by the Falls.  But while Elsaesser discusses a director’s other works, he does not address how an audience might have access to this information. Indeed his approach was thought to include much ‘reading-in’ from a critic or academic’s response rather than an audience’s.

Finally, contextualising Wai among other Asian directors was undertaken. Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows (2004) downplays the inherent melodrama of a mother abandoning her children. We wondered if this restraint was therefore particularly true of Asian cinema. However it was also noted that directors from other National Cinemas such as Britain’s Ken Loach are also downbeat in their approach. We noticed that some of the films we’ve watched over the last 9 months have been melodramatic in plot as well as treatment (The Sheik, Gaslight) while others focus on suffering but are less obviously concerned with excess (Love on the Dole, Happy Together). This neatly comments on the infinite variety of melodrama, its treatment and its many meanings….

Many thanks to Keeley for choosing such an interesting film, which provoked a lot of useful discussion!

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 29th May, Jarman 7, 4-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the fourth of the Summer Term’s screening and discussion sessions which will take place on the 29th of May in Jarman 7, from 4pm to 7pm.


We will screen Keeley’s choice: Happy Together (1997, Wong Kar Wai, 96 mins)


Keeley has very kindly provided the following information:

Happy Together follows the ill-fated love story of Lai (Tony Leung) and Ho (Leslie Cheung) who travel from Hong Kong to Argentina for a holiday. Their relationship goes adrift and Ho leaves for Buenos Aires. A disillusioned Lai starts working at a tango bar to save up for his trip home. When a beaten and bruised Ho reappears, Lai takes him in and the explosive relationship continues, only to inevitably come to an end. After meeting a Taiwanese boy, Chang, at the restaurant where he works, Lai’s life takes on a new path, while Ho struggles to come to terms with his broken heart.

Happy Together is an intentionally contentious choice to screen as part of a melodrama research group so I would like to introduce my selection. Firstly, I wanted to select something close to my own research interests in gender and sexuality studies. Additionally, I also wanted to, following in the vein of Poltergeist, screen something a little different to the wonderful films we have seen so far. So here we have a film featuring gay protagonists from the Hong Kong new wave. Something queer, Eastern and contemporary!

But – is Happy Together a melodrama? Returning to the discussions of ‘what is melodrama?’ that fuelled our early meetings, I would like to propose an investigative analysis of the film in this week’s session. Some things we could discuss:

  • Use of music
  • Narrative construction – especially the ending
  • Character construction and the trope of ill-fated lovers
  • Related to last week’s suggested reading, Thomas Elsaesser’s ‘Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama,’ what about the symbolic power that objects (or places) have within the film?

Kenneth Chan’s ‘Tactics of Tears: Excess/Erasure in the Gay Chinese Melodramas of Fleeing by Night and Lan Yu’ offers us an introduction to the cultural context of melodrama in China (and relatedly, Hong Kong) and also a noteworthy discussion of homosexual pleasures and narratives within the Chinese melodrama. Significantly, I believe it also offers us a way to understand some of the problematic parts of the film which perhaps negate the elements of melodrama which are present. With this in mind I think it will be particularly useful to draw upon Chan’s analysis of the ‘erasure’ of melodrama in Lan Yu (p.154 onwards) in our own discussion of Happy Together.

Do join us if you can. And please note we start at 4pm.

Summary of Discussion on Poltergeist

Posted by Sarah

The post-screening discussion ranged far and wide, addressing several areas: the debate as to whether Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg directed the film;  comparisons to other Spielberg films; the film’s relation to drama and melodrama; the film’s central themes of love and family; how the comedic aspects affected the drama, melodrama and horror; some staples of the horror film gene;  parapsychologist Dr Lesh’s function; more specific aspects of the film including set design, particular shots and the use of music; comparisons to non-Spielberg films. As ever, do leave comments or email me at to add your thoughts.


We started by referencing Warren Buckland’s Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster (Continuum, 2006) in which Buckland analysed Poltergeist’s shot lengths and concluded that the film bore close relation to films directed by Tobe Hooper, rather than those directed by Steven Spielberg. However, the group thought that despite this, the film felt like a Spielberg movie– and he was indeed responsible for the film’s story as well as co-writing and co-producing it. On a very general level, Poltergeist was reminiscent of Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) and its mix of comedy quips and adventure/horror very similar to Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). It was noted that Poltergeist’s parents Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams) had a similar sense of fun to the parents in Jaws, despite the arrival of children. The fact that the film showing on the family’s TV at one point – A Guy Named Joe (1943) – was later remade by Spielberg into Always (1989) was also commented on as further evidence of Spielberg’s close involvement. It was thought that a reason Spielberg might not have been credited as co-director was that he was exclusively contracted as director on E.T. at the time.

So how might the presence of Spielberg’s guiding hand affect the dramatic and melodramatic aspects of the film? Kat interestingly proposed that Spielberg had ‘blockbusterised’ 1930s and 1940s melodrama. It was agreed that the main connection to melodrama was the emphasis on excessive emotion and the heightened drama.  The film’s main themes regarding the power of love and the family and the very high stakes involved – the average American Family under attack from The Beast – were also related to this gesture towards the excessive. In addition, the characters’ relationships with one another were understandably highly emotional. This was aided by the use of non-diegetic music which inspired an emotional response from the audience. As well as at the level of the plot and theme, the cinematic treatment was excessive – the blockbuster special effects for example. This relates well to some of our other discussion about melodrama. Is melodrama most visible at the level of plot (the suffering of characters – as seen in Poltergeist when the family loses its youngest member) or the way in which the story is told? At this point, John Mercer and Martin Shingler’s Melodrama: Genre, Style, Sensibility (Wallflower Press, 2004) in which the authors state that melodrama is perhaps not a genre, but a sensibility or mood was considered. It was also suggested that Poltergeist’s excessive plot and treatment (especially its dramatic, or melodramatic, elements) were what made the film, essentially hokum, believable, at least at the moment of viewing.

In addition, sentimentality, which is certainly one of Spielberg’s hallmarks, was present throughout the film and is arguably connected to melodrama. This sentimentality contributed to the fact that the film, while it had elements of horror, was not too frightening. We also linked this to the comedy aspect present in several Spielberg films. The squabbling siblings reminded us of a US family sitcom. The sudden intrusion of the horrific elements was therefore in some ways surprising. While this might be thought to lead to extra-shock value, it generally toned down the horror elements as it seemed likely that the familiar comedy component would soon return. It was noted that no one actually dies in Poltergeist – which is highly unusual for a horror film and part of what contributes to its status as a family-oriented horror film.

Some more usual motifs of horror were present though. The house was of course revealed to have been built on top of an uncleared cemetery and the family’s ordeal was not over when the characters believed it to be.

leshCharacters outside the family in Poltergeist were also discussed. We particularly focused on the parapsychologist Dr Lesh (Beatrice Straight). It was thought to be significant that as an outsider, and one who must to some extent suspend any disbelief she might feel, Dr Lesh functioned as a mirror for the audience. She acted as intermediary between us and the film’s moments of excessive drama. As an investigator of parapsychology she of course only appears after Carol-Ann is abducted – once the film’s drama has become excessive. She appeared to provide a sense of stability for the audience, therefore, and she explicitly acts in this way for Diane. The Doctor promises she will return, and the pair shares an emotional hug which marks Dr Lesh as a mother surrogate.

Other specific moments of the film we focused on included the shot which magically lengthened the landing corridor as Diane was attempting to reach the end of it to rescue her children. It was thought that the shot itself seemed out of place with the rest of the film, although the sense of urgency it engendered chimed well with the heightened drama. The pan ‘reveal’ which showed that the proposed housing development would be built on was also commented on. The prominent position the staircase occupied in Poltergeist was focused on. This relates to melodrama in terms of spectacle, although in this instance the stairs’ almost freakishly organic, twisty, appearance was deemed unusual.

We also found some echoes of Poltergeist in later films. The plot was compared to that of Labyrinth (1986, Jim Henson), while Poltergeist’s beginning was related to that of A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005) and the bobbing corpses in the back garden to Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell  (2010). The latter is on UK TV this Sunday – Channel 5 9-11.05 pm – if you want to catch it.

We did not get around to discussing Thomas Elsaesser’s article on the family melodrama, but if anyone would like to do so, just add a comment. It should also bear relevance to next week’s screening.

Many thanks to Kat for choosing such an enjoyable, thought-provoking and, at times, quite scary film, and for providing other food for thought!

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 22nd May, Jarman 7, 4-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the third of the Summer Term’s screening and discussion sessions which will take place on the 22nd of May in Jarman 7, from 4pm to 7pm.

We will screen Katerina’s choice:Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper, 114 mins)

Poltergeist 1

Katerina has very kindly provided the following information:

“One might suggest that the overall development of the Hollywood cinema from the late 60s to the 80s is summed up in the movement from Romero’s use of the Star Spangled Banner (the flag) at the beginning of Night of the Living Dead to Spielberg’s use of it (the music) at the beginning of Poltergeist.” (Robin Wood, ‘Papering the Cracks: Fantasy and Ideology in the Reagan Era,’ Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan)

Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper was released in 1982 and has been described by Robin Wood as “Tobe Hooper’s worst film”, precisely because it has the look of a Stephen Spielberg film (Spielberg co-wrote and was co-producer of the film). Made on an estimated budget of $10m, it grossed over 7 times that in the US market alone. Its success spurred the studios on to make a further two films and a TV series in the 1990s. As with Jaws and its sequels, however, Poltergeist’s sequels offered decreasing financial and artistic rewards.

There is no doubting that Poltergeist belongs to the horror genre, but it is worthwhile reflecting upon the more melodramatic aspects of the film which arguably underpin its structure and success. If we remove “horror” from our approach, the film could be easily described as a family melodrama or drama, as the narrative is purely based on a family searching for their missing daughter (albeit a daughter “lost” in the ether of the spirit world via the TV). Much of the film focuses on the emotive interchanges between the family and the outsiders that aid the return of the daughter to the family. The camera stays close to the characters to heighten the emotions felt by the characters and the necessary emotive response required from the audience. The film updates the Gothic house in line with the concerns of the 1980s and that decade’s ideologies (references to Reaganism run throughout the film). Familial and homely space are explored in the narrative and presented at odds with the attainment of the American dream.

Indeed, in his postscript on Poltergeist in Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan, Robin Wood touches on three important elements of the film; the representation of the all American family, the drive for the American dream and the influence of Spielberg.

The themes that could be focused on in the discussion are:

  • The blockbuster as melodrama?
  • The reconfiguration of the Gothic house in Poltergeist.
  • The importance of space, for example the staircase.
  • The influence of Spielberg, especially to the camerawork and aesthetics, and how this aids in anchoring melodrama to the film (consider it in relation to Jaws, E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark).

It may be worth reading, ‘Tales of sound and fury. Observations on the Family Melodrama’ by Thomas Elsaesser.

Poltergeist 2


Do join us if you can. And please note we start at 4pm.


Summary of Discussion on the Melodrama Research Group’s Plans

Posted by Sarah

As always, do log in and comment or email me on to leave your thoughts. I’m sure the outline below will take shape and be added to very soon!

Discussion of the Group’s activities mostly centred on our plans for Spring 2014. It was thought that a symposium with invited speakers might be the best way to stage an event. The idea of a festival which did not focus on film screenings, but rather melodrama in other media or indeed archive material relating to film melodrama, was suggested.  This might well focus on several different areas, which is especially apt given the variety and pervasiveness of melodrama.  For both of these it was agreed that the involvement of practitioners in melodrama would be very worthwhile.

A possible trip to the New Amsterdam Film Museum was also mentioned which would be very exciting!

Links to Early Film Melodrama Shorts

Posted by Sarah

Below are links to videos on and of the films we watched, as well as some other Griffith films. Do watch (or rewatch!) and feel free to log in and comment, or email me on




The Mothering Heart:

What Shall we Do with Our Old?

An Unseen Enemy:

Lonely Villa:

Summary of Discussion on Early Film Melodrama Shorts

Posted by Sarah

This week we had the opportunity to compare some varied short film melodramas: Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard, 1901, 10 mins) directed by and starring George Melies, The Mothering Heart (1913, 22 mins) directed by D.W. Griffith and starring his frequent collaborator Lillian Gish and Suspense (1913, 10 mins) co-directed by, and starring, Lois Weber. I have summarised the discussion below, but do log in to comment or email me on to add your thoughts.

Barbe bleueDiscussion on the earliest of these film shorts, Barbe-bleue, noted that, in keeping with other films produced at the time, it was filmed by a static camera. However, the fairly frequent set changes and constant on-screen action (including some of Melies’ trademark trick shots of a character – a taunting imp –  appearing and disappearing accompanied by a puff of smoke) added impetus to the already melodramatic story. This story was closely related to the gothic with some powerful imagery involving a secret room, keys, Bluebeard’s dead wives hanging from nooses and the latter characters invading his current wife’s dreams.  Significantly the narrative centred on a woman (or perhaps more correctly women) in peril, which has been a constant theme in the films the Melodrama Research Group has screened. Appropriately for Melies, known for his magic, Bluebeard’s dead wives inexplicably become reanimated, just in time to be rescued by men who had rather magically appeared.


suspenseLike Barbe-bleue, Suspense bore close relation to the gothic since they both focus on a woman in jeopardy. The threat to the woman in Suspense is explicitly sexual, however. Tom Gunning’s article on the use of telephone in early film “Heard over the phone: The Lonely Villa and the de Lorde tradition of the terrors of technology.” Screen 32.2 (1991): 184-196 was referenced. In this, Gunning notes the fact that both telephonic and cinematic technology manage to bring us near to, but at the same time keep us at a distance from, the subject (either the person at the other end of the telephone, or the characters in the film). We are not in a position to affect what occurs onscreen, while the husband in Suspense is similarly hamstrung by his physical distance from his home and wife whilst they are under attack. It was noted that Gunning mentions D.W. Griffith’s Lonely Villa (1909) which also uses a telephone in the narrative.

As well as an exciting narrative, Suspense included some stunning shots. Especially striking were those from a character’s point of view. One of these was a shot from above of the tramp looking up and threatening the woman, supposedly from the woman’s point of view out of an upstairs window. In addition, the tramp was shown to be particularly menacing as he ascend the stairs and looms large in the frame. The split screen which sectioned the tramp, the husband and the wife into separate areas was also very effective.  The car chase afforded some great opportunities for inventive camerawork.  There was a point-of-view shot from the second car of the first, while the wing mirror of the first car neatly showed those pursuing it several times.


D.W. Griffith’s The Mothering Heart was very different to both Barbe-bleue and Suspense. The melodrama focused on the less fantastical, and arguably less suspenseful, issues of marriage and infidelity.  It was preoccupied, as were other films of the time, with the split of the woman into virgin (as represented by Lillian Gish) and the vamp (Viola Barry). Both of whom were interested in the same man (Walter Miller). Discussion of Griffith’s film focused mainly on the presence of Lillian Gish and the similarity of her role to the one she played in Griffith’s Way Down East (1920) in which she also appeared as a mother who tragically lost her baby. While Gish’s character here appeared to act more progressively than in Way Down East – she leaves her husband while she is pregnant due to his infidelity – the reconciliation at the end over their dead baby’s body felt very contrived. Griffith’s inclusion of Apache dancing taking place in the background of the club where the husband meets the vamp was also commented upon. A comparison was drawn between the Apache woman following her man and the foregrounding of suffering Woman – a common theme of melodrama.

It was also especially interesting to compare the work of two often-referenced male film pioneers (Melies and Griffith) with a lesser known, though hugely important, female director of the silent era.

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 15th May, Jarman 7, 5-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the second of the Summer Term’s screening and discussion sessions which will take place on the 15th of May in Jarman 7,                from 5pm to 7pm.

We plan to screen some short melodramas, which will probably centre on the early works of American Cinema pioneer DW Griffith.  As well as influencing editing techniques, Griffith was well known for his melodramas such as Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921).

The films we may show include What Shall we Do with Our Old? (1911), An Unseen Enemy (1912, starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish) and The Mothering Heart (1913, starring Lillian Gish).

unseenwhat shallThe Mothering Heart





Frances also has some film shorts to share. She has kindly provided the following information:

Suspense (1913) is an early narrative film about a woman and child threatened by an intruder in their home. One of the film’s directors, Lois Weber, was a prominent female director in early cinema and she also wrote, produced and starred in many of her films.  Weber’s films often featured social problems and tackled controversial issues, as with Hypocrites (1915), Where Are My Children? (1916) and Shoes (1916). This latter film – which tells the story of a woman who sells her body for much-needed work shoes – bears a striking resemblance to the themes discussed with last week’s Love on the Dole.

Suspense’s narrative centres on the representation of the telephone – a fairly new addition to domestic homes at the beginning of the twentieth century – and, as Tom Gunning notes, the film features one the earliest elaborate uses of the split-screen device. (Gunning, 1991)

Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard, 1901) is one of the earlier works of French filmmaker and magician Georges Méliès. Popularly described as the grandfather of special effects cinema, Méliès makes use of his trademark trick shots, superimpositions and dissolves in the construction of his “artificially arranged scenes” (Méliès, 1907) in Barbe-bleue. The film is based on the folktale of the same name which tells the story of a villainous nobleman who murders his wives. Melies’ film shows the latest young wife who is left alone in Bluebeard’s castle and forbidden by her new husband from entering a locked room. Inevitably, the temptation becomes too much for the bride and she discovers Bluebeard’s deadly secret…

Both Suspense and Bluebeard continue in one of trends we have explored in other melodramas: namely the focus on the woman’s story which often features the female protagonist suffering in some manner.  In this sense Suspense and Bluebeard can also be classified within the gothic tradition – a genre/cycle closely related to melodrama – as the films place a particular emphasis upon the domestic home as the site of terror and danger.


Gunning, T. 1991. “Heard over the phone: The Lonely Villa and the de Lorde tradition of the terrors of technology.” Screen, 32 (2): 184-196.

Méliès, G. 1907. “Kinematographic Views”. In: Gaudreault, A. 2011. Film and Attraction: From Kinematography to Cinema. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.


In addition to screening shorts, we will be discussing plans for the  group’s future such as the possibility of organising a conference or symposium as well as publishing opportunities.

Do attend if you can. And please note, we start at 5pm, not 4pm as previously advertised!