Summary of Discussion on The Double

Frances has very kindly provided the following excellent summary of our discussion on The Double.

Double#1

 

The Double: Screening and Discussion notes

The post-film discussion began with the observation that the film taps into ideas of horror and the surreal, and how the relationship between these two themes is becoming more common in recent films like The Double. However depictions of horror and the surreal are by no means a new invention as it was noted that the dark humour of the film was quite Lynchian and particularly reminiscent of Twin Peaks. The Double also touches on the tone and themes we shall explore with our next screening, Dead Ringers.

Our discussion also touched upon the nature of the doppelganger figure represented in the films shown as part of our season. The Double shares an affinity with The Dark Mirror shown a few weeks ago because both films depict the double character as inevitably evil. In The Dark Mirror, this portrayal hinges on the ‘scientific’ notions that twinned siblings have fraught, competitive and dysfunctional relationships where one sibling will eventually turn to crime: the idea of the ‘evil twin’. Although the doppelganger which appears in The Double is not an identical twin, the same logic is applied to the duplicated appearance but mental incongruence between Simon James and James Simon. Where Simon is unpopular but kind, thoughtful and loyal, James is successful but manipulative, selfish and cruel.

This opens up the question: what purpose does this doubling of characters serve in these films, and what does the figure of the doppelganger signify? It was noted in our discussion that the doppelganger functions as the ultimate fracturing of identity and thus appears to engage with ideas about modernity. This is supported by the film’s mise en scene. The spaces in The Double seem quite modern as, for example, the office Simon works in uses computer technology to process data. However this same technology is also strangely archaic: the computers look outdated and the machines are cumbersome and slow. Our sense of time and space is ruptured as the film seems to suggest that the events depicted in The Double could be everywhere but nowhere.

As such, the doubling of Simon functions in part to illuminate the horror of modernity: machines control the characters in the film, as well as giving them a sense of purpose, but the outdated technology also hinders the ability for these people to relate meaningfully to other human beings. The humour of the film derives from the horror of this situation. James’s intrusion into Simon’s life proves how nothing matters in this reality – that a callous attitude can succeed over a humble one – but this life is not a nightmare as such: the film states this is just ‘reality’. It is for these reasons that the film adopts a deadened tone despite the larger melodramatic themes and scenes which take place.

Finally, we also briefly discussed how James is introduced into the story and how this compares with other films featuring a double. In The Double, James first appears in very brief shots, when he quickly passes by Simon on his way home. The fast editing offers just glimpses of James before his formal introduction at Simon’s work place the next day. This entrance is similar to the double’s introduction in Black Swan, where noises on the soundtrack indicate the doppelganger’s arrival. Both instances also take place in tight, claustrophobic spaces where sound and image are difficult to discern. These images also contribute to the double’s status as a harbinger of evil which will threaten the wellbeing of the main protagonist.

 

Thanks Frances! Do, as ever, log in to comment, or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add your thoughts.

Summary of Discussion on Black Book

Posted by Sarah

The discussion on Black Book ranged widely and encompassed: the film’s relationship to melodrama; the trope of the suffering woman; the family in melodrama; rhythm in melodrama and the film’s unending revelations of betrayals; the film’s characters Akkermans and Muntze; moral ambiguity; costume; women’s fluid identity/ies); melodrama and real life.

Black book Rachel Ellis sufferingWe began by isolating some of the elements which coincided with our understanding of melodrama. The continuous suffering of the main female character Rachel/Ellis (played by Carice van Houten) was especially noted. The group has commented on the suffering female(s) present in previous, and varied, screenings, including:  D.W. Griffiths’ The Mothering Heart (1913), Gaslight (Thorold Dickinson 1940, George Cukor 1944), Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954), Twin Peaks (TV 1990-1991), and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001).

Black Book RachelEllis bombingThe film begins in 1950s Israel but soon a triggered memory causes it to flash back to Nazi-occupied Holland in 1944. At his time Jewish Rachel Stein is separated from her real family and finds shelter with a Christian family.  Her relatively quiet existence is soon shattered as her hiding place is bombed when she is out, presumably along with its inhabitants. Rachel’s real family has been hiding elsewhere but soon they are reunited. This might at first appear coincidental (another important melodramatic trope which is also present elsewhere in the film) but is in fact explained away by a mutual acquaintance (her father’s solicitor Smaal) being aware of Rachel’s plans and informing her family.  Almost immediately after the family reunion Rachel witnesses the slaughter of her mother, father and brother just when they, and other Jewish families, seemed on the road to freedom. After losing her surrogate family and home then, Rachel’s suffering is heightened, indeed overtaken, by the loss of her real family.

The family is often central to melodrama, and it is also the case here since it prompts Rachel’s later action, and she relives this particularly traumatic scene. On the first occasion this is implicit. In Rachel’s new, non-Jewish, identity of Ellis de Vries she has joined the Dutch resistance. These defend themselves against Nazi soldiers, gunning them down, and then stripping their bodies of useful uniforms. This reminds the viewer of the earlier scene since after the slaughter of the Jewish families the Nazi soldiers divest them of their jewellery.  The connection is reinforced as Rachel/Ellis can only stand by as a mute witness as both events occur.  Later on, a powerful reaction to again Black Book RachelEllisrelivingseeing the man who was responsible for Rachel/Ellis’ family’s slaughter is indicated not just physically (Rachel/Ellis runs to the cloakroom to vomit) but psychologically: the film provides a flashback of the earlier scene, from Rachel’s point of view.

Black Book RachelEllis and Muntze at stationRachel/Ellis’ suffering is not confined to these awful events, however. She suffers more as she witnesses some of her new friends being caught by the secret police. Rachel/Ellis also suffers conflict by falling in love with the high-ranking Nazi official, Ludwig Muntze (played by Sebastian Koch), she has been sent to spy on after meeting him, by chance, on a train and charming him. Tellingly the first scene of their lovemaking is accompanied not by a lush romantic score, but one more indicative of danger, danger Rachel/Ellis (and to an extent) Muntze, cannot for a moment disregard.  Rachel/Ellis later suffers as Muntze is arrested and sentenced to death, and she is imprisoned after a botched attempt to rescue him. Another Nazi official, Gunther Franken (played by Waldemar Kobus), inflicts further suffering as he leads stages a scene within the hearing  of a ‘secret’ microphone Ellis previously hid. This leads Rachel/Ellis’ friends to think she has betrayed them, and is a further level of suffering: others’ belief in her good character is taken from her.  Rachel/Ellis and Muntze later escape together, enjoy a few moments of rare  domestic bliss on a boat, but are captured after confronting Rachel/Ellis’ father’s solicitor Smaal with suspicions of corruption. Franken’s destruction of Ellis’ good name has practical consequences too.  After peace has been declared she is rounded up with other traitors and detained, beaten and humiliated.  Finally she hears that her lover Muntze has been killed. This is tellingly the moment at which she actually lets her emotions out, collapsing to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably and rhetorically asking ‘when does it end?’ Even the film’s conclusion, which returns to a time in the 1950s just after Rachel’s flashback has begun, follows the pattern of a momentary respite before suffering again intrudes. After a brief happy moment with her husband and children we can see that another war rages around them.

We thought that Rachel/Ellis’ continual suffering fitted Matt Buckley’s description of melodrama’s often relentless ‘rhythm’ when he gave a research talk the other week. Further relation to earlier theatrical melodrama, specifically Victorian, was suggested as the ‘Jerries’  were a force outside of the characters’ control, much like fate.  The film’s numerous false reveals of the person who betrayed the whereabouts of the Jewish families can also be seen to be connected to the notion of rhythm. First the ‘friendly’ secret policeman Van Gein is suspected. While he is indeed revealed to be working with the Nazis, he is not the traitor.  Next Rachel/Ellis’ father’s solicitor Smaal is accused. He and his wife are immediately killed however, with Muntze chasing after the offender, but only Black Book Rachel Ellis collapsesucceeding in being caught himself. Finally Hans Akkermans (Thom Hoffman), a Doctor and key resistance figure, is unmasked as the man responsible. He foolishly does this himself after attempting to kill Rachel/Ellis with an injection of insulin, but not waiting for it to take full effect.

The scene ends when Black Book RachelEllis crowd surfingRachel/Ellis manages to grasp some chocolate which rather ironically Akkermans had earlier given her and is able to reverse the effects of the insulin. She then, somewhat implausibly, escapes by rushing past Akkermans who is addressing the crowd from his balcony, and throwing herself into the mob below. (On a side note we also found the ambiguity of Rachel/Ellis’ motives here intriguing: was she bent on survival or destruction?) Nearer the film’s beginning Rachel/Ellis had told Akkermans that a friend of hers used to eat chocolate when he had over-injected with insulin. This is an example of the film’s fairly-heavy handed use of foreshadowing. Another key example occurs in relation to Akkermans. Earlier in the film Akkermans, to the delight of his resistance colleagues, mocks Hitler by donning a makeshift toothbrush moustache and speaking in a mock-German accent. Now he is indeed corrupted by power, with a very high opinion of himself, and is addressing the crowd as a leader might.

Akkermans is certainly a complex character. Some of  this is linked to narrative necessity –  he must appear one thing while actually being another, and do so convincingly as the film works its way through unmasking its variety of different ‘villains’.  This leads to perceived emotional complexity – has he always been corrupt, or been made corrupt through necessity and/or power? We found the character of Muntze more interesting, however. Although a high-ranking Nazi official he is even less the wholly bad villain of melodrama. Muntze is redeemed by the film in several ways. The first of these, which ties him closely to Rachel/Ellis, is that he too has been affected by the loss of his family. His wife and children were bombed by the British. The film also shows Muntze attempting to institute a ceasefire with the resistance. Furthermore, he does not betray Rachel/Ellis to the authorities when she confesses her true identity and purpose.

It was also commented upon that the actor playing the ‘nice’ Nazi Muntze (Sebastian Koch) was attractive, while the actor playing the ‘nasty’ Nazi Franken (Waldemar Kobus) was less easy on the eye. This led to further discussion about the ambiguity of the film’s, and its characters’, morality. The way in which those thought to have betrayed their country by collaborating with the Nazis were treated – Rachel/Ellis’ and others’ humiliation – was lingered on by the film, rather than evaded. Some in the group wanted Rachel/Ellis and Gerben Kuipers (a resistance man who had lost his son because of Akkermans’ betrayal) to take the moral high ground after they had tracked him down. Instead, Rachel/Ellis used the point of her locket containing family pictures to screw down his coffin lid in order to suffocate him – a poetic revenge. Rachel/Ellis and Kuipers discuss the fact that they should let Akkermans live. Neither does, despiteBlack Book RachelEllis and Kuipers Rachel/Ellis’ earlier agreement with Smaal that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. One of them notes that Hans has gone quiet and we might presume he has died. It was thought that some uncertainty, however, allowed Rachel/Ellis and Kuipers some moral leeway.

Black Book RachelEllis red dressCostume also featured in our discussion. We questioned the historical accuracy of some of the outfits, especially the women’s.  However of more concern to us was the symbolism of the costumes. The floor-length leather coasts and jack boots which singled out the most high-ranking officers are especially iconic and were easy to identify. In most cases their presence immediately signalled a character’s loyalties and standing, though Muntze was an exception. Rachel/Ellis’s costumes were of particular interest. It was telling that a few in the group who had seen the film before had misremembered the colour of a dress Rachel/Ellis wears at one point. Rachel/Ellis leaves a party she is attending to crawl though the coal store and allow her comrades access to the Nazi’s underground prison. The dress she wears was remembered by some as being white, though it was in fact red. It was thought that this was because white is linked to notions of innocence and that is how we view Rachel/Ellis. The red dress of course has other connotations – to do with passion, desire and sex. This led to further discussion of women’s costumes. We especially noted that Rachel/Ellis and her fellow worker Ronnie use clothing as part of the wiles they rely on to survive from day to day. Rachel/Ellis’ decision to wear to work a see-through blouse which revealed her underwear highlighted this. We further noted the fluid identity of these two main female characters – they have to morph and adapt. Ronnie was very interesting in this regardBlack Book RachelEllis and Ronnie dance as she was revealed to be more scheming than we might have been anticipated: she affects Rachel/Ellis’ and Muntze’s joint escape from prison. We wanted to know more about her, especially as her presence in Israel and recognition of Rachel/Ellis sparked the film’s extended flash back. What was Ronnie’s story?

Whose story is the film based on?’ was another question we asked. The opening credits assert that it is ‘based on a true story’. The film’s many coincidences and revelations may make this seem unlikely. But it chimes again with Matt Buckley’s recent talk. In this he emphasised the increasing relevance of melodrama not just to art, but to lived modern experience.

Many thanks to Tamar for choosing this rich film, especially apt due to the School of Arts upcoming trip to Amsterdam.

Do, as ever, log in to comment or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add your thoughts

Summary of Discussion on Twin Peaks and the X Files

Posted by Sarah

After running the session on Twin Peaks and The X Files, Frances has very kindly provided the following summary of our discussion.

 Twin 1

In this week’s session the discussion focused mainly on the relationship between Twin Peaks and The X-Files as popular television shows and the use of horror and melodrama as predominant features throughout both. Continuing the discussion points raised by the previous session’s screening of American Horror Story, it was commented upon again this week how the serial format of television allows greater opportunity to develop this connection between horror and melodrama, particularly in respect to the viewers’ relationship with the characters of the shows. Twin Peaks is a good example of this as it is a series which features a big ensemble cast and many sub-plots interweaving with the main narrative: the mystery surrounding Laura Palmer’s death.

The clip from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me demonstrates this well as the sequence moves from the portrayal of Laura as a popular albeit troubled high school girl to much darker events which show Laura as the victim of evil forces (human and possibly supernatural) in her own home. The shots focusing on the house’s staircase, Laura’s bedroom door and the strange events which take place during Laura’s dream (her doubling in the picture) are particularly striking and correlate to common Gothic tropes. Twin Peaks’s combination of melodrama, thriller and horror makes it a good example of Gothic Television as outlined in Ledwon’s article, which we found useful. Ledwon’s article does raise the question: what would be a contemporary example of Gothic Television? In this session we did also talk about recent rumours that Twin Peaks may be brought back or re-booted and we agreed that this would probably would not work or be as successful: the series seems very much of ‘its time’.

Twin 2We also discussed performance and melodrama in Twin Peaks and how the acting is, at times, quite ‘hammy’. A good example of this is the sequence where Doctor Hayward comes home to discover Ben Horne in his family home, the latter having revealed that he is the biological father to Hayward’s daughter Donna. Donna is distraught at the news and Hayward is enraged at the upset Horne has brought upon his family and so hits him, causing Horne to fall onto the fireplace and receive a severe – and possibly fatal – injury to the head. The scene ends with Donna and her mother crying, Horne unconscious on the floor and Hayward falls to his knees and cries out, shaking his fists in the air.

The scene is representative of the kind of melodrama used in Twin Peaks which usually takes place in the private space of the family home and involves the revelation of devastating secrets. Another example of this is the scene where Nadine Hurley regains her memory (after believing for a long period that she was a high school teenager following her suicide attempt) and finds that her husband Ed is in a relationship again with an old lover, Norma. This scene, like the one in the Hayward home, is left unresolved. We discussed how this is can leave viewers frustrated by the lack of a definitive conclusion – a comment which can be extended to the show’s finale in general – but also in relation to the fact that often the good characters in Twin Peaks also suffer. Doctor Hayward, in particular, is a ‘nice guy’ but is not exempted from the consequences of the show’s many family melodramas.

 

x files 5We spoke at great length about The X-Files episode we watched called Home. The use of music stood out in this episode, particularly during the Peacock brothers’ attack on the sheriff and his wife. The juxtaposition of such upbeat music with the gruesome and disturbing imagery reminded us of Lynch’s work, particularly Blue Velvet. Home also compares quite well to Twin Peaks as both shows portray the American Dream through the representation of small-town America with a particular emphasis on the family. The crimes which are committed in secret in both these towns are exposed by the intruding FBI agents, although the local law enforcers support the government agency’s work. The sheriff in Home is given particular emphasis as he explicitly states how he loves the town as it is – with habitants leading apparently simple and honest lives – and he does not want the grizzly crime discovered at the episode’s opening or the presence of Mulder and Scully to change that. In this way the episode sets up a number of conventional binaries: small town versus the city; the crimeless rural versus the corrupt city; the traditional nuclear family versus the domination of isolating careers for agents in the FBI. With the character of the sheriff, the episode begins by following this conventional path, emphasising the richness of possibilities such an American Dream can have.

HTwin 3owever the presence of the Peacock family in the narrative very quickly subverts this and, as with the Laura Palmer investigation in Twin Peaks, The X-Files also exposes this dream to be just an illusion and that evil lurks within this small town too. Home presents this subversion in two main ways. First, in contrast to Twin Peaks, Home does not deny that loving families exist: the controversy of the episode is that this loving ‘family’ commits the ultimate taboo – incest. The Peacock family have been reproducing via this practice for several generations and this has led to numerous mental and physical degenerations, which is visibly marked on the brothers’ faces. Their appearance in the show opens the episode and – even before we learn the reasons for their physical deformities – the brothers are portrayed as monsters. The music, the use of heavy shadow and the storm which accompanies their introduction quickly establishes the Peacock brothers as the enemy to be investigated, particularly as the show opens with a disturbing birthing scene which concludes with the siblings burying the offspring in the garden.

We discussed how, in this way, Home addresses two fears: the taboo of inbreeding and the Hollywood’s obsession with the aesthetics of bodies, especially the idea of being ‘body perfect’. The Peacock family not only tackles both these issues head-on, but they subvert expectations by finding this family life ‘normal’. Indeed, the melodramatic moments of family drama in the episode occur because the Peacocks are attempting to protect their way of life from intruders. Contrary to the expectations evoked by the show’s provocative opening, the Peacocks are the ‘small town’ community which are being invaded by the judgement and investigation of others. This interpretation of events on behalf of the Peacock family is reinforced by the fact it is FBI agents – Mulder and Scully – who instigate this intrusion and who, literally, invade the family’s home. The sharp contrast between the x files 4obvious love and loyalty expressed by the Peacocks against their out-of-town counterparts is emphasised in this episode as Mulder and Scully are shown at times to be dysfunctional themselves, and it is stressed how Scully cannot empathise with Mrs Peacock as she has never been a mother.

The second way the show subverts expectations – and the components of the so-called American Dream – is with the way it portrays who is at fault in the episode. Certainly the Peacock family is represented as monstrous; a disturbing corruption of what a family should look like. But an important part of the horror in the show stems from the way the other townspeople have chosen to ignore the repulsive family and their lifestyle in order to maintain the town’s respectability. The sheriff encompasses this attitude: he is eager to find out who murdered the baby found at the beginning but wants to do so in order to return life to the way it was. His unwillingness to investigate the Peacocks – even when it is clear that they must be an important part of the investigation – makes him just as culpable in the crime. We discussed how the horror therefore comes from within: from attempting to keep life the same in the town and ignoring perversions in favour of an illusion of stability and normality. It was commented how this is a very Lynchian trope and peculiarly American.

Extending this last point further, Home also explores similar themes found in horror films which engage with an imagined geography of America, where the small and rural town is threatening in its own way. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, Home taps into the fear that living in isolation is not only possible but can be the catalyst for the horrific events which takes place in such narratives. The believability that such family like the Peacocks could exist in America is a particularly potent element of this fear. As such the science-fiction label given to The X-Files does not seem entirely suitable. This episode, like many others in the series, does not create horror and melodrama from supernatural or paranormal activities. In this respect we found the Bellon article useful in critiquing the classification of The X-Files as a science fiction, although the use of ‘ontological detective story’ was not found to be entirely satisfactory as an alternative genre either. We agreed that melodrama, thriller and horror are important genres informing the show’s narrative, performance and visual style. This link is strengthened by comparing Home to previous screenings and we found similar themes of holding onto the past, wanting to keep life the same and living in isolation in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.

x files 6Finally Home also presents the viewer with complex representations of gender. When watching the first half of the episode, we think Home is presenting us with traditional ideas of gender: we, like Mulder and Scully, believe at first that the Peacock brothers have kidnapped a woman to reproduce with. Scully comments that the basic instinct to reproduce may be motivating the brothers and Mulder later calls the Peacock’s reaction to their scrutiny as demonstrating raw, animalistic behaviour. The woman-as-mother motif is raised continuously throughout the episode, beginning with the labour scene and the suspicion the brothers have kidnapped a woman, and then again when Scully talks about her own desires for a family. This notion of women is embodied by the
mystery woman in the Peacock house who is revealed to be the brothers’ mother. Mrs Peacock states that Scully (and by extension other women) cannot understand the love she has for her family despite their murderous act because she is not a mother. Mrs Peacock is a form of the monstrous feminine, as postulated by Barbara Creed: she is the source of all life and this is her sole purpose for living. Without any limbs and restrained on a board beneath the bed, Mrs Peacock is a ‘baby machine’, reducing her femininity to the core components necessary for reproduction.

This confinement to the woman-as-mother is emphasised by the episode’s opening, which introduces viewers immediately to the disturbing labour scene. The repeated shot of Mrs Peacock’s eyes – both in this opening and repeated again when Mulder and Scully visit the empty house and then finally when they find the mother under the bed – is very effective as it still gives a human and expressive face to an otherwise biological ‘machine’. Opening the show with Mrs Peacock giving birth also compares to the opening of American Horror Story and Vivian’s gynaecologist appointment. The emphasis of women’s bodies as a ‘house’ in American Horror Story is extended in The X-Files where ‘home’ takes on several meanings: it is the episode’s title; it refers to the creepy Peacock house; and it also references the family Mrs Peacock attempts to maintain, with her body as the means for creating new life. The episode’s ending, where Mrs Peacock escapes with one of her sons, suggests that the Peacocks shall continue in their quest for creating this home.

Mrs Peacock’s agency in this concluding sequence is where the representation of woman-as-mother is complicated. Mrs Peacock is not made into an archaic mother endlessly producing new offspring against her will: she willingly and enthusiastically accepts this role and she is revealed to be the matriarch of the family, the brothers following her commands. Once again the episode inverts expectations. Mrs Peacock does not see herself as monstrous, nor does she need or want to be saved. This revelation taps into and stresses the fears explored earlier and is an important part of the show’s horrifying impact.

As a concluding point, we also noted how the manner in which television shows are watched has changed considerably since the 1990s. Twin Peaks and The X-Files would have both been consumed on a weekly basis. Today, whilst this broadcasting practice still exists, many viewers also watch the shows in box-sets or streamed from online services, with the option to watch many or all the episodes at once. The difference this may make to the narratives of such shows – and particularly how melodrama is used to keep the viewer’s interest – is still an area to be explored.

Many thanks to Frances for choosing such interesting TV episodes and for the great summary!

Do, as ever, log in to comment, or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add your thoughts.

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 13th of November, Keynes Seminar Room 6, 4-7 pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the fifth of this term’s screening and discussion sessions which will take place on the 13th of November in Keynes Seminar Room 6, from 4pm to 7pm.

We will be screening Frances’ selection: episodes of Twin Peaks and The X Files.

Frances’ introduction:

Twin Peaks and The X-Files

x files 1

The aim of this week’s session is to continue the discussion inspired by Kat’s screening last week of American Horror Story. As highlighted last week, Kat and I are interested in exploring further the relationship between horror and melodrama, and how this has a particular relevance to television, where such productions are based on the serial format. This week I shall be showing episodes from Twin Peaks and The X-Files as further examples of popular TV shows combining horror and melodrama traditions. Both shows were created and first aired during the 1990s and, as such, represent the forerunners to American Horror Story and the commercialisation of horror as a successful, primetime television component we discussed last week. This week’s session shall therefore look at examples from both series and their spin-offs, including:

–          A clip from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (a 1992 film based on the TV series directed by David Lynch; this film was made as a prequel to the TV show).

–          Twin Peaks episode 29, season 2 (first aired in the USA on 10th June 1991; this episode is the final one of the series).

–          The X-Files episode 2, season 4 Home (first aired in the USA on 11th October 1996).

TP 1Twin Peaks was first aired in the USA on 8th April 1990 and ended on 10th June 1991, after running for two seasons. The series begins with the discovery of a girl’s body wrapped in plastic and washed up on a riverbank in a quiet American town called Twin Peaks. The girl is revealed to a local named Laura Palmer, a high school student and the school’s prom queen. The news of Laura’s murder shakes the town, particularly as Laura was seen as the perfect, all-American teenage girl with a loving and respectable family. This event sets up the key question which drives the rest of the narrative: who killed Laura Palmer? Soon after the discovery of Laura’s body, another teenager named Ronnette Pulaski is found badly hurt and wandering confused just outside of town. The girl slips into a coma and FBI Agent Dale Cooper is called to investigate Laura’s death and any connection this may have to Ronnette. On inspecting Laura’s corpse, Cooper finds a letter concealed underneath one of her fingernails which bears a striking resemblance to a murder case of another girl murdered a year earlier. Believing the cases to be connected, Cooper remains in Twin Peaks to investigate Laura’s death and expose the killer he thinks may be local or, at least, not very far away.

TP 2Cooper’s investigation into Laura’s demise is the core plot point which drives the narrative although the FBI agent’s investigations soon expose the corruption and crime which permeates the seemingly sleepy town. The series also follows the lives of all its inhabitants and thus the show features an extensive supporting cast and interweaving sub-plots. Throughout the course of the show, the picturesque Twin Peaks is found to be harbouring drug dealers, pimps, adultery, domestic violence, child abuse, incest, mental illness, blackmailers, corporate corruption, human trafficking, prostitution and, of course, murder. Laura is revealed to be at the heart of these crimes as Cooper discovers two sides to Laura’s life: on the one side, the happy high school girl who was the prom queen and dates a local boy Bobby; on the other side, Cooper discovers Laura’s darker life, where she is also seeing another teenage boy James, is addicted to cocaine and prostitutes herself to pay for her habit, and has been the victim of sexual abuse since childhood. The revelation of Laura’s suffering exposes the perpetrators of these criminals as Twin Peaks locals, as well as illuminating the family dramas of other residents, not directly responsible for Laura’s death. As such the series plays out like a soap opera, where the personal melodramas of the town’s inhabitants becomes public knowledge and the repercussions of this are great: Twin Peaks cannot return to its (however illusory) status as a normal, quiet American town.

TP 3Twin Peaks is therefore infused with melodramatic sub-plots and performance, and you will see examples of this in today’s screening. The series is indebted to the features of melodrama we have looked at in previous sessions: the detective story; use of delay and reticence; the threat of the domestic space; heightened emotion and exaggerated performance; and suffering women (there are many suffering women in this series which include but go beyond Laura). However Twin Peaks’s genre is difficult to pin-down precisely, particularly as the series features other surreal moments in true Lynchian fashion: Cooper has many dream sequences where he visits a mysterious red room which is not of this world. Cooper is convinced that this dream holds the clues to solving Laura’s murder and it reveals that the mystery hinges on deciphering who or what is BOB. As a result of this strange mixture – the show’s portrayal of intense family drama juxtaposed with dream sequences and suggestions of the supernatural or mystic which lack narrative or logical explanation – Lenora Ledwon suggests that Twin Peaks is a prime examples of the ‘Television Gothic’. Like the Gothic discussed previously in our sessions, this genre also places an emphasis upon the home, the family, the uncanny and the monstrous (either real or supernatural) but is particularly subversive because of the show’s domesticity as a television programme (Ledwon, 1993, 5). She writes:

This new Television Gothic utilizes familiar Gothic themes and devices such as incest, the grotesque, repetition, interpolated narration, haunted settings, mirrors, doubles, and supernatural occurrences. But these elements undergo a sea change once they are immersed in the “currents” of television. What could have been a soothing repetition of formula instead becomes a disturbing process of transgression and uncertainty. (2)

The extracts from Twin Peaks chosen for you to watch today demonstrate this potent combination of family melodrama, Gothic tropes and horror sequences. Twin Peaks questions the stability and conception of American Dream and in particular the idea of small-town America and the nuclear family. In the clip from Fire Walk With Me this is particularly potent: the seedier sides of Laura’s life become increasingly apparent to the viewer and Laura becomes both a Gothic heroine in her own home – a victim of the evil forces surrounding her – but also an active (and enthusiastic) participant in the town’s sleazy underbelly. The show makes extensive use of horror iconography in these examples and helps to complicate the question: who killed Laura Palmer? On one level this is answered (the killer is revealed mid-way through season two) but the surreal and dreamlike sequences used in the show’s finale show that the answer is not so easy or complete. The series questions whether the evil in the town is inherent in the people who live in Twin Peaks or whether another force is responsible. The show’s final episode also extends this question of instability to another form of authority: the US government. Cooper’s status as an agent of the FBI is an important facet to the murder investigation and, along with other law enforcers like the town’s sheriff, they represent the (only) force of good. Yet the viability of sustaining such control and enforcing the law in Twin Peaks also comes under threat. The series thus ends on an ambiguous note: what is to become of institutions like law enforcement and the family? Does the ending offer any hope? These are questions to keep in mind for the screening.

x files 2The last episode I am showing is from The X-Files, a series which ran from 10th September 1993 to 19th May 2002, spanning nine seasons. Both The X-Files and Twin Peaks therefore began in the same decade, although the latter was cancelled much earlier. At first glance the two series seem very different: whereas Twin Peaks appears to adopt a soap opera format with an emphasis on the domestic and the family, The X-Files is commonly classified as a science-fiction series and follows the actions of two FBI agents – Mulder and Scully – who investigate a series of cases which feature paranormal occurrences. Mulder is keen prove the existence of aliens although his partner Scully – a scientist who is assigned to evaluate Mulder’s activities – is a hardened sceptic. Over the course of the show, the two agents become very close and learn from each other’s perspectives, as well as investigating cases which reveal criminal activity, paranormal activity and the corruption of the government. For Joe Bellon, the show’s combination of all these elements means that it should not be classified as just ‘science fiction’. (Bellon, 1999). In fact, the show’s strange mixture of not completely conforming to a pro-science perspective but also not being entirely irrational in its representations either, make for a difficult classification. It is for these reasons Bellon argues that The X-Files functions in the ‘ontological detective mode’, where ‘[t]he question to be answered is not “who done it?” but rather “what is it?”’ (7). This shift in emphasis thus widens The X-Files’s concerns beyond the question of the existence of aliens (although very important) and includes the exposure of corruption and evil which wears a very human face, such as the FBI. These larger issues are comparable to the issues raised by the Twin Peaks finale as well.

The X-Files’s resistance to conforming to the usual conventions of science-fiction does not mean that the show has no discernible genres, however. I would argue that melodrama is an important part of the show, motivating the narrative. Mulder’s preoccupation with all things paranormal is not without cause: he is convinced his sister was abducted by aliens as a child and he is determined to expose the truth. His detective work thus provides the catalyst for the revealing a number of hidden truths along the way, in a manner similar to Cooper’s work in Twin Peaks. Yet the key difference is that Mulder is motivated by his own family trauma: in The X-Files the detective work is a very personal affair. The melodramatic potential of this sub-plot also comes to the fore with another personal relationship, this time the relationship between Mulder and Scully. As the series continues, one of dominant reoccurring stories of the show is the ‘will-they-or-won’t-they?’ question. Although the FBI agents’ relationship is platonic for the majority of the show, the two do become romantically involved.

The X-Files also makes extensive use of horror conventions in its narrative and iconography. The decision to bring horror onto the small screen was quite deliberate: the show’s creator, Chris Carter, mused that there seemed to be a lack of prime-time shows which included horror. He wrote: ‘You look at the TV schedule … and there’s nothing scary on television.’ (quoted in Hammond and Mazdon, 2005, 63). The show’s episodes are therefore littered with monsters, creepy occurrences and unexplained events intended to haunt and disturb. The importance of the horror format is also apparent by the ‘Monster-of-the-Week’ episodes: these are episodes which stand-alone from the main narrative and its concerns (such as Mulder’s sister) but help to develop the evil and horror infecting the larger X-Files universe. It is one of these episodes I have chosen to screen for this session: an episode called Home. In this instalment of the show, The X-Files follows a very similar narrative arc to Twin Peaks: a gruesome discovery in a small, quiet town in American necessitates an investigation by the FBI and Mulder and Scully are sent in. Their investigation leads them to the Peacock family, who live in an old, isolated house and have no contact with the other town’s inhabitants: in fact the family has managed to reproduce through incestuous liaisons. Mulder and Scully attempt to infiltrate this disturbing family home and solve the mystery of the murder.

x files 3Home became quite an infamous episode for the show, as its horrific content meant that the show was broadcast with a viewer’s warning for the first time in The X-Files’s history. Many reviewers criticised the series for going ‘too far’ in the episode and the network did not re-broadcast the show for many years afterwards. Home has also been rated number one out of the ‘Scariest Science Fiction and Fantasy TV Episode’ with the warning: ‘Once seen, this episode will never leave you.’ (see: http://io9.com/top-25-scariest-science-fiction-and-fantasy-tv-episodes-1450803057). Interestingly, the horror of this episode is unrelated to all of the paranormal investigations which feature elsewhere in the series, and a supernatural explanation for the events does not occur. Rather, like Twin Peaks, Home seeks to expose the horrific living in the domestic sphere, questioning the stability and safety of the traditional family unit. Home presents us with a radical re-definition of the American family which becomes unnatural, perverse and monstrous. One noticeable difference between Home and Twin Peaks is that the first’s family appears to function without any female presence or influence at all: it seems that only three of the Peacock ‘brothers’ live in the old house. However the episode soon subverts expectations again and presents us with extreme variations of the Gothic heroine, as the true nature of the situation comes to light and the investigation is solved. As such The X-Files creates a unique and horrific version of the traditional family melodrama.

As with Twin Peaks, this X-Files episode evokes the questions: what is the cause of the ‘evil’ here? How does this reflect upon the idea of family and the domestic home? Can these observations be extended to include the representation of authority, as with the FBI?

Enjoy the shows!

References:

Bellon, J. 1999. ‘The Strange Discourse of The X-Files: What It Is, What It Does, and What Is at Stake.’ Critical Studies in Mass Communication 16, 136-154.

Creeber, G. 2004. Serial Television: Big Drama on the Small Screen. London: British Film Institute.

Hammond, M. and Mazdon, L. (eds.) 2005. The Contemporary Television Series. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Kowalski, D. (ed.) 2007. The Philosophy of The X-Files. Kentucky: The University of Kentucky.

Lavery, D., Hague, A. and Cartwright, M. (eds.) 1996. Deny All Knowledge: Reading the X-Files. London: Faber and Faber. 

Ledwon, L. 1993. ‘Twin Peaks and the Television Gothic.’ Literature Film Quarterly,21:4, 260-270.

http://io9.com/top-25-scariest-science-fiction-and-fantasy-tv-episodes-1450803057

 

Do join us if you can, for more TV horror. Visit our additional blog for more information:http://melodramaresearchgroupextra.wordpress.com/

Reflections on the Last Academic Year

Posted by Sarah

It would be useful to draw together some of our group’s activities and discussion on melodrama over the last 9 months. I’ve added my own thoughts below which ended up being far more fulsome than originally intended!), but do log in to comment or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to include your ideas. It would be great if people provided their own overviews, or a detailed focus on an element (such as the definition of melodrama or a specific film) which especially interested them.

8 Events Magnificent ObsessionWe were very fortunate to begin the academic year with a Research Seminar at which Birmingham School of Media’s Dr John Mercer (co-author, with Martin Shingler, of Melodrama: Genre, Style, Sensibility, 2004) presented. John’s talk ‘Acting and Behaving Like a Man: Rock Hudson’s Performance Style’ focused on Hudson’s ‘behaving’ in several Douglas Sirk melodramas:  Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956). This provided us with some great insights into probably the most referenced Hollywood director of film melodramas as well as underlining the close relationship between melodrama and performance.

11 Events Tea & Sympathy Beach

 

Nottingham Trent University’s Dr Gary Needham also presented at a fascinating Research Seminar. In ‘Revisiting Tea and Sympathy (1956): Minnelli, Hollywood, Homosexuality’. Gary, like John, explored the work of specific Hollywood director associated with melodrama: in this case Vincente Minnelli. Gary’s work interestingly opened up debate on gender relations and sexuality with a sensitive re-reading of Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy.

In our fortnightly meetings since January we have broadened out from this focus on 1950s Hollywood melodrama. We have screened a surprisingly wide variety of films with connections to melodrama, which hailed from France, Britain, the US, and Hong Kong and stretched from the silent cinema of the 1900s to contemporary film of the 2000s. We have also organised a very enjoyable and useful read through of a play.

We started with debate on the male melodrama by referencing Steve Neale’s reconsideration of melodrama in ‘Melo Talk’.  Neale argued that unlike the 1970s The Narrow Marginfeminists who wrote on melodrama in relation to the ‘women’s film’, trade press from Hollywood’s Studio Era was more likely to attach the term ‘melodrama’ to films with male-focused themes, such as film noir. Viewing Richard Fleischer’s The Narrow Margin (1952) which was hailed at its time of release as a ‘Suspense Melodrama’ allowed us to engage with Neale’s argument in a practical as well as theoretical way.

son of the SheikBut melodrama is more usually thought of as being related to suffering.  The American Film Institute defines melodramas as ‘fictional films that revolve around suffering protagonists victimized by situations or events related to social distinctions, family and/or sexuality, emphasizing emotion’. (http://afi.chadwyck.com/about/genre.htm). In keeping with this, we screened George Melford’s The Sheik (1921). The Sheik and the next film, Robert Z. Leonard’s The The DivorceeDivorcee (1930), were more closely related to traditional notions of melodrama focused on by feminists in the 1970s. Both of these centred on melodramatic plots and had suffering women at their hearts. Though the earlier film presented events in a more melodramatic way, partly due to the type of acting which is thought to predominate in the silent era.

Our screening of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938) opened out our discussion to animation. Once more the melodramatic plot was in place, though we did note that the use of comedy tempered the melodramatic elements.

snow white 1

 

Gaslight UKShowing two versions of Gaslight – the British film directed1 Welcome Gaslight by Thorold Dickinson in 1940 and the Hollywood remake helmed by Gorge Cukor in 1944 – allowed us to compare examples from two major film industries. In terms of melodrama the same, or at least a similar, story being told in different ways was especially illuminating. The plot underpinning both is melodramatic, but the polished approach of Hollywood was strikingly different to the ‘blood and thunder’ uppermost in Dickinson’s film. The Gothic subgenre of these films also provided much discussion.

Love on the Dole 2Weekly activities in the Summer Term provided us with scope to show more, and some longer, films. We began with John Baxter’s Love on the Dole (1941) which fascinatingly combined a melodramatic plot with the aesthetics of social realism. Its unusual, downbeat, approach was highlighted by the films we screened the following week: George Melies’ Barbe-Bleu (1901), D.W. Griffiths’ The Mothering Heart (1913) and Lois Weber’s The Mothering HeartSuspense (1913). Showing some very early short melodramas by French and American film pioneers George enabled us to directly compare films from cinema’s earlier days, afforded us the opportunity of watching the work of a female director which seems apt given melodrama’s usual focus on the female, and provoked thoughts regarding the use of suspense and restraint.

Poltergeist 2The screening of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) turned the group’s attention to horror. This provided us with an opportunity to assess the way melodrama works with, and amongst, other related genres. Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Happy Together tangoTogether (1997) proved to be another surprising, but interesting choice for discussion. The clearly melodramatic plot concerning two young lovers’ trials was presented, at times, in a documentary style. This was thought to be revealing of melodrama’s inherent variety.

A read-through of Frederick and Walter Melville’s 1903 play A Girl’s Cross Roads returned us to more traditional notions of melodrama. The plot and the performances (at least when ‘performed’ by us!) were certainly over the top, with suffering central to the play.

16 Links The Girl who Lost her Character

Our most recent screening of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) proved very useful as it was a thoughtful meditation on melodrama especially in its parodying of the genre and Hollywood films of the 1950s.

In addition to our screenings and the read through we have been contacted by the BFI who are staging an event about melodrama in 2015. They intend to screen 50 unmissable melodramas. We compiled our own list of 50 unmissable melodramas (https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/melodramaresearchgroup/2013/03/03/the-bfi-and-50-unmissable-melodramas/) which we had reduced from the longer list of 225 titles (https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/melodramaresearchgroup/2013/03/03/unmissable-melodramas-the-long-list/) We are currently working through (and adding to!) these. We also plan to widen out further from film melodrama by engaging with theatre, television and radio(see the next post on Summer Activities for more information).

The Melodrama Research Group is busy working on several events: a screening of Midnight Lace (1960) in September, a forthcoming Symposium, a Festival, a Trip and is looking into Publishing Opportunities.

Summary of Discussion on Mulholland Drive

Posted by Sarah

Our post-film discussion covered several areas, including how melodrama functions in Mulholland Drive; the relationship between the melodrama and horror genres; David Lynch’s other films; and definitions of melodrama. Do log in to comment, or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add your thoughts.

MulDrWe began the discussion by noting the ways in which Mulholland Drive (2001) was related to our understanding of melodrama. Broadly speaking, the fact the plot focused on love and domestic matters was thought to relate closely to the family focus present in many melodramas. At a more specific level, some of the aesthetics pointed to melodrama: especially the scene which places Betty (Naomi Watts) firmly within the domestic setting of the kitchen as she makes coffee at the huge sink. This had echoes of 1950s melodramas, especially as it externalised the internal states of characters. Other of the film’s settings, and the costumes, also harked back to earlier Hollywood.

 

Mulholland Betty arrivalIndeed the film was a self-conscious meditation on melodrama, especially Hollywood melodrama. At times this slipped into parody or pastiche. Betty’s boundless joy at arriving in Los Angeles in particular seemed like a moment from a bad 1950s melodrama, or perhaps a ‘Visit Hollywood’ advertisement.  The staging, dialogue and acting in the first part of the narrative was self-consciously Mulholland Dianeunconvincing, especially when involving Betty. There was praise for Watts’ performance(s), however.  The switch from perky optimistic Betty to distressed Diane was very well-realised.  Watts persuasively inhabited the role of suffering Diane in the second part of the film, making the character markedly different through the way she held herself and facial expressions.

Other self-conscious aspects of the film drew attention even more strongly to the fact the film was constructed prior to our viewing of it. At Club Silencio the emcee informs Betty and Rita that the sound has been previously recorded, foregrounding the importance of illusion.  It was also suggested that it is significant that this is the point just before the film’s narrative turns: that it is signposts the switch from melodrama parody to melodrama ‘proper’ as Diane is seen to be really suffering.  Other instances in the film appear to downplay the melodrama though. The dramatic, if not melodramatic, fight scenes are undercut by slapstick comedy and black humour. We have previously noted that melodramas use humour, sometimes of minor characters, in order to provide polt1some relief from the melodrama (for example in both film versions of Gaslight), thereby heightening the melodramatic aspects. It is perhaps unusual to find the dramatic and comedic so closely entwined as in Mulholland Drive, though interestingly Poltergeist, another film with links to horror, employed this tactic.

The importance of horror, its similarities to and differences from melodrama, was also raised.  Both genres externalise the internal and Lynch’s particular combination of the two genres in Mulholland Drive – attaching the horror aesthetic to the melodramatic plot – was especially unsettling. Comparisons to Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) were made. It Lost Highwaywas noted that Cowboy (Monty Montgomery) in Mulholland Drive served a similar function to Mystery Man (Robert Blake) in Lost Highway. The importance of performance in these and other Lynch films – such as Eraserhead (1977) and Blue Velvet (1986) – was also noted. Despite similarities, Lost Highway was thought to be out-and-out horror, while Mulholland Drive’s use of melodrama complicates the matter. It was suggested that Lynch’s film express a modern melodrama, related to the Gothic, which is extreme.

This led, once more, to debate on the definition of melodrama. A definition of melodrama has proved somewhat elusive – Martin Shingler and John Mercer define it as a ‘sensibility’ (in Melodrama: Genre, Style, Sensibility, 2004). We wondered if it would be useful to more fully appreciate the fact melodrama, like other genres, is not static.  While other genres allow for subgenres to become more fully integrated into notion of what that genre is, this seems less true of melodrama.  This is especially odd given the fact that our screenings have revealed the versatility of melodrama and its omnipresence.  Indeed Linda Williams (in ‘Melodrama Revised’. Refiguring American Film Genres: History and Theory (1998) pp. 42-88) states that melodrama is the American art form. Meanwhile Hollywood arguably remains the dominant force in world cinema.

If we begin to take into account more subgenres of melodrama, and looser relations that exist between melodrama and other genres, this would open up new areas of discovery. It was suggested that it might be more profitable to talk of the melodramatic rather than melodrama. In addition, while it would be positive to not speak of melodrama in pejorative terms, this is in fact the way in which people use it, and changing this seems unlikely to happen.  This comments effectively on how the Melodrama Research Group has engaged with the notion of melodrama: as it is, rather than how it should be, understood. Over the last few weeks the collision of melodrama and horror (Poltergeist and Mulholland Drive) has been especially useful in showing the long reach of melodrama.

Many thanks to Frances for selecting such a fantastic and fascinating film, and for kick-starting such fruitful discussion…

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 12th June, Jarman 7, 4-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the last of the Summer Term’s screening and discussion sessions, which will take place on the 12th of June, Jarman 7, from 4-7pm.

We will be showing Frances’ choice: Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch, 146 mins)

mulholland

Frances has very kindly provided the following introduction:

Mulholland Drive is a 2001 feature directed by David Lynch. The narrative of the film is convoluted to say the least but the story is roughly divided into two sections where we follow the actions of the two main female protagonists: Betty and Rita in the first, and Diane and Camilla in the second (played by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring respectively). The film’s narrative (or should that be narratives?) tells a story which incorporates an assortment of themes, drawing upon several generic conventions. In the first half of the film, the search for lost identity is the narrative’s central motivation as aspiring actress Betty attempts to help the amnesiac Rita discover her true name. The representations of betrayal, thwarted lovers and corruption which subtly underpin the events of this first section come to the fore in the second half of the film when our characters transform into Diane and Camilla: the estranged lovers. The women’s interactions with each other are interspersed with scenes depicting the action of several supporting characters including: the director Adam Kesher; his mother and/or Betty’s landlady Coco; the mysterious diners at Winkies who discuss the disturbing dream; and the enigmatic character known only as The Cowboy. How these secondary narratives relate to the story as a whole remains ambiguous as the film evokes genres as diverse as the detective film, thrillers, film noir, romance and, I would like to argue, melodrama.

Part of the narrative’s mystery may stem from the film’s production history, which reveals how Mulholland Drive was originally conceived as a project for television (much like Lynch’s successful series Twin Peaks). When TV executives rejected the project, Lynch filmed an ending to his pilot episode and released it as a much shorter story and feature film. Mulholland Drive also shows the development of several themes Lynch explored in his previous film oeuvre, particularly Lost Highway (1997). Lost Highway is similarly divided into two sections where some actors perform more than one role and the causal relationship between these narratives can be interpreted in several ways. Like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway concentrates on the confusion created by lost memory, the mistrust evoked by betrayed lovers and a seedy underworld (in this case involving drugs, pornography and gangsters) which seems to seep into the lives of all characters portrayed. Viewed in this way, Mulholland Drive is very much a sister film to its predecessor but with one important difference: in Mulholland Drive the main Mulholland2protagonists at the core of both segments of the film are women. This new emphasis upon a female experience is emphasised by the use of the same actresses in the key roles, their dominance in the narrative’s progression and screen-time, and the lesbian relationship which developments between Betty and Rita/Diane and Camilla. It is in this way that Mulholland Drive begins to evoke the ideas of melodrama discussed by the Research Group thus far and, specifically, the reoccurring trope of the suffering woman.

Lynch’s work has been equated with melodrama before, particularly as his films often seek to expose the illusory nature of US suburban culture: Blue Velvet’s (1986) depiction of the perversion which infects the seemingly perfect town of Lumberton is a good example of this. Mulholland Drive certainly develops this theme further but transforms this evil force into the morally corrupt corporations of Hollywood, where Betty hopes to find her big break. Mulholland Drive appears to consciously evoke the ideas Mulholland 3associated with Hollywood melodrama both in its ‘real’ plot (a betrayed lover) and the movie-making featured within the story (in a nice homage to the 1950s). The film’s plot is consistently ‘melodramatic’ but these moments of excess are uncomfortably controlled: often moments of confrontation do not culminate in the explosive emotional responses expected and Lynch’s camera is often very slow to reveal the important information occurring in a scene or, conversely, concentrates on images which appear to have no significance at all. The unusual pacing of the film is of course reflected in the film’s denial to provide a satisfactory explanation of its narrative. It is partly for these reasons that Lynda Chapple argues for a reading of the film which concentrates on other components: in this case, costume. Chapple relates the film’s use of costume – another topic commonly discussed under the heading of melodrama – to the representation of the female characters: “the costuming practices in this film exemplify a crisis of identification within a specifically feminine cinematic image” (p.322). (For more information on Chapple’s article visit http://melodramaresearchgroupextra.wordpress.com/)

One of the major questions posed by Mulholland Drive is whether the events we are watching actually took place, or are they a dream or fantasy taking place in one of the protagonist’s minds, particularly Betty’s/Diane’s? In this way the film presents an alternative representation for female subjectivity and the feminine experience to those featured in other melodramas which focus primarily on women. Considering the film to be (at least in part) the subjective experience of a protagonist extends the discussion on female subjectivity, as raised in previous films discussed like Gaslight. Other questions which could be considered when watching the film are:

– How does Mulholland Drive’s narrative ambiguity affect our experience of the film as a melodrama?

– Does the film’s tone support or question this classification?

–  How important is the ‘suffering woman’ trope to Mulholland Drive and melodrama?

–  Does Chapple’s analysis on costume help to unravel some of the film’s mysteries and is this an important element of the film’s status as a melodrama?

Enjoy the film!

Do join us to watch the film and take part in the post-film discussion if you can. And please note we start at 4pm.