Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 22nd of February, 5-7pm, Jarman 7

All are very welcome to join us for the third  of this term’s Screening and Discussion sessions, which will take place on Monday the 22nd of February, 5-7pm, in Jarman 7.

We will be showing Frances’ choice The Stepford Wives (1975, Bryan Forbes, 115 mins). Frances has very kindly provided the following introduction:

The Stepford WivesBryan Forbes’s 1975 screen adaptation of The Stepford Wives may seem, at first, a long way away from the eerie shots of Manderley which open Rebecca (1940) or the exuberant period costume of Uncle Silas (1947), viewed during the last session. Indeed, The Stepford Wives opens in a modern New York apartment where our protagonist – Joanna – sits alone. Soon afterwards, Joanna and her family will be seen outside in the busy city and a man carrying a mannequin across the street captures Joanna’s eye as a keen photographer. The film’s beginning – with its emphasis on the bright, noisy and Joanna as photographermodern city, and Joanna’s role as a wife and mother as well as an inspiring professional photographer – appears to radically contrast the Gothic films discussed in previous weeks. Yet The Stepford Wives soon reveals how the tropes of the Gothic infuse this tale of horror set in a seemingly perfect suburban community. The film conveys the same Gothic anxieties of the menacing dark house, the suspicious husband and the investigative heroine whose well-being is very much jeopardized. The historical context into which The Stepford Wives was made and originally released supports these assertions: the film appears at the same time that Gothic fiction enjoyed a renewed interest, with Gothic novels – published in cheap paperback editions – were enormously popular, as beginning with Phyllis Whitney’s Thunder Heights in 1960.

However, the significance of The Stepford Wives resides not just within a contemporaneous interest in Gothic narratives, but also in how the film directly interrogates the socio-political context of the US in the 1970s using the Gothic mode. In 1963 Betty Friedan has published her influential The Feminine Mystique which explored the unhappiness of suburban housewives in the 1950s and 60s who struggled to find satisfaction from a life of domesticity and maternal duties. This is a central theme of The Stepford Wives: upon arrival Joanna is faced with beautiful women neighbours who are solely concerned with cleaning and cooking, whilst their husbands congregate for meetings of the ‘Stepford Men’s Association’. Joanna is unsettled by these occurrences and initially finds a kindred spirit in Bobbie who celebrates the sight of a messy kitchen. In this way, the rise of radical feminism in the 1960s and 70s in challenging gender stereotypes and traditional roles, and demanding legal and social change, should not just contextualise the viewer’s reading of the film, but clearly these progressive politics influenced the making of the film too. The politics of housework is explicitly mentioned in dialogue in the film, as is references to feminist movements, such as the women’s liberation movement in New York.

Anna Krugovoy Silver argues that it is precisely this political context which informs the film and its interaction with the Gothic tradition. Interestingly, Silver notes that Friedan did not like the film because it seemed to demonize all men in the active oppression of women (Silver, 2002). However Silver argues that The Stepford Wives does not simply parody feminist discourse, like Friedan’s, but rather the film seeks to interrogate the ideas being discussed by feminists at the time and force a spotlight on aspects which continued to be contentious issues for many women, such as marriage and housework. In this way, The Stepford Wives becomes an important ‘sociocultural document’ for 1970s America. Silver continues: ‘[The] Stepford Wives arose out of these feminist critiques of marriage, but rather than simply exploiting the feminist critique, as Friedan implies, the message of Forbes’s suburban gothic is consistent with that of many second wave feminists. His conclusions about the family are indebted to, and consequently reinforced, the popularization of feminist rhetoric and theory’ (2002).

The Gothic helps to illuminate the interactions between the film and its political messaging. For example, the threat from the male protagonist – which is often translated into the suspicious activities of the secretive husband in the 1940s Hollywood Gothics – now becomes the oppression of the murderous male community in The Stepford Wives. The role of the Gothic heroine in revealing secrets of the narratives as an active investigator becomes Joanna’s role in exposing male privilege and its The old dark housesubjugation of women. And the presence of the old, dark house becomes a symbol for where such inequality emerges and is resisted by 1970s feminists and Joanna alike. As Silver observes, the film emphasises how ‘the patriarchy begins in the home’ (Silver, 2002).

Elyce Rae Helford also writes how The Stepford Wives engages with the political context of its making and highlights how the film is a contemporary of Laura Mulvey’s famous essay on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’(Helford, 2006). The Stepford Wives helps to show how Mulvey’s work thus becomes another important historical document in the interaction between feminist movements and the creation of artworks, and in particular film. Helford’s comparison is interesting on another level too: The Stepford Wives appears to interrogate the idea of a male gaze, as the women in the film are – quite literally – formed in the shape deemed desirable to their husbands. This stands in tension with Joanna’s resistance against the Men’s Association and – on a metaphoric level – her role as a photographer and thus her control of the lens. This element of the film is of particular interest to the Melodrama Group’s wider discussion of representations of the Gothic heroine and the agency she has (or does not have) within the Gothic narrative. The Stepford Wives contributes to this conversation as the film presents the themes of looking, being watched and the female body as interwoven within the confines of a Gothic story which simultaneously speaks to the larger narrative of women’s rights and feminist movements of the 1970s.

 References

Helford, Elyce Rae. 2006. ‘The Stepford Wives and The Gaze.’ Feminist Media Studies, 6 (2), 145-156.

Silver, Anna Krugovoy. 2002. ‘The Cyborg Mystique: The Stepford Wives and Second Wave Feminism.’ Women’s Studies Quarterly. 3 (1/2): 60-77. Online at:  http://lion.chadwyck.co.uk.chain.kent.ac.uk/searchFulltext.do?id=R04239649&divLevel=0&area=abell&forward=critref_ft

 

Thanks Frances! And please note that due to the length of the film we will be starting promptly.

Summary of Discussion on The Spiral Staircase

Comments on Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase (1946) included the film’s temporal and geographical settings; its use of early cinema entertainment; the film’s plot; its heroine; the source novel; feminism and the film’s characters; the couple; the melodrama genre and more specifically gothic tropes such as the staircase.

spiral credits

Our discussion began with appreciation for the film’s opening. This occurs just after the shadowy shot of a woman descending a spiral staircase over which the credits roll. After establishing a suitably creepy atmosphere, the film proceeds to communicate the film’s time and place. Small town America is conveyed by wide streets and the date narrowed to sometime in the 1910s judging by the dirt road, horses and carts,  and characters’ costumes. The date is further pinned down by the screening of a modern attraction – a short silent motion picture, The Kiss. (This might be an extract from Ulysses Davis’ 1914 version starring William Desmond Taylor, although several shorts with the same name were produced in the 1910s.)

The heroine of the film, young mute Helen spiral old film(Dorothy McGuire), is attending the screening and this aligns us with her as film goers.  It also creates a certain expectation of romance within the film – once more for both us and Helen. We especially liked this depiction of film history within a film text, and were impressed by the inclusion of a woman playing live piano accompaniment. Soon the murder of a disabled young woman is committed in her rooms above the theatre. The masterly fluid use of space between the lower and higher levels contrasts to the disjuncture inherent in our viewing of those enjoying an entertainment and the serious crime taking place upstairs. Even the dramatic nature of the short overtaken by ‘real’ events.

some-must-watchWhile the alignment of us with Helen, and the other film goers, draws us into the action the dissonance between audience experiences (silent vs sound) separates us. This led us to ponder some key differences between the source material (Ethel Lina White’s Some Must Watch 1933) and the film. The action has moved from rural UK to small-town America (despite the inclusion of recognisable British actors Elsa Lanchester and Sara Allgood). The heroine is now a mute which places her in the path of the serial killer murdering disabled women. These women begin 10 years earlier with a woman with learning difficulties, and more recently one with a scarred face (a strong comment on the linking of women and beauty), another woman with learning difficulties, a woman with mobility issues, one who refused to love the murderer (presumably this is seen to show a lack of judgement, though of course we know differently), and lastly possibly Helen, who is mute.  More significantly the film is placed around twenty years earlier than the novel.  Instances of feminism in the film are therefore displaced onto earlier times and the fact that the heroine literally, and not just metaphorically, has no voice is also connected to the time of women’s suffrage. We also noted that conduct literature of the time advocated all women being quiet – raising her hat to get attention rather than shouting.

We discussed the instances spiral high angle Eb gunof feminism in the film at some length. The heroine is not saved by a man, but a woman. Specifically Helen’s saviour is her elderly, seemingly bed-ridden and cranky employer Mrs Warren (Ethel Barrymore).  Not only does Mrs Warren urge Helen to leave the house for her own safety but she shoots her stepson, Professor Warren (George O’Brien), when she realises he has committed these heinous crimes.   Although this action might seem surprising – especially in terms of the character’s limited mobility – several important factors have been established earlier. We see Mrs Warren with a gun which she then manages to somehow hide and her hunting past is evidenced by the various animal trophies in her room which include several stuffed birds, tusks and a prominently placed tiger rug. The latter is focuses on when Helen almost trips over it. Mrs Warren  explicitly claims it as her ‘kill’ and notes that her husband said she was ‘not as beautiful’ as his first wife but that she was a much better ‘shot’ – a strength he greatly admired. As well as establishing Mrs Warren’s strong character the various stuffed animals add to the creepy setting by adding more watching pairs of eyes – death pervades not just the town, but the house too.

Mrs Warren also provides a vital insight into the motivations of the killer when she comments, early on, that her husband thought men could only be men if they were toting guns. This places the blame firmly at the feet of her dead husband and this is later confirmed by Professor Warren’s ‘justification’ to Helen. He specially states that his father would be proud he is ridding the world of the ‘afflicted’. (Notably not weak people – there are no male victims only those doubly ‘afflicted’ by disfigurement or disability and the being of the female gender.)

The_Spiral_Staircase SteveProfessor Warren’s half-brother Steve’s behaviour is also critiqued. His attentions are seen to bother his brother’s secretary, Blanche, with their final meeting including him telling her that he enjoys watching her cry. He considers this sadistic behaviour common to all men since women’s expressions of their emotions make the male gender feel ‘superior’. Specifically he cautions Blanche not to be ‘melodramatic’.

The film cannot be viewed as a straightforward criticism of patriarchy, however, as it switches between approaches. The romantic subplot with Doctor Parry expresses this most strongly. Helen and Doctor Parry’s status as a romantic couple is far more straightforward than either Rebecca or Sorry, Wrong Number. While Maxim de Winter and Lenore’s husband are killers (and significantly wife-killers) Doctor Parry is a decent man of conviction. He does not express his love for Helen other than a brief kiss, but it is commented on by Mrs Warren in front of the pair. Mrs Warren attempts to displace the responsibility for taking Helen away onto Doctor Parry, though this is unsuccessful.spiral couple This view of traditional gender roles is also held by Helen.  Her fantasy is of her wedding to Doctor Parry. She pictures this taking place at the house but this turns into a nightmare when she is unable to utter ‘I do’. It is also notable that Doctor Parry takes it upon himself to ‘cure’ Helen of her lack of speech becoming, albeit briefly, another threatening man in the narrative as she shouts at her. In fact Helen only regains her voice after the shock of Mrs Warren shooting her stepson.

We also spoke about the film’s effective creation and dissipation of suspense. As Helen walks home after the murder at the theatre she hears something. Arming herself with a heft tree branch she is relieved to discover the source of the sound was merely a rabbit. As Helen approaches the house she drops her door key and as she stoops to collect it we are afforded a glimpse of a man Helen does not see. Thankfully she reaches the front door and gains access to the house. This is not without a sense of foreboding though as Helen is being watched by various statutes and ‘faces’ in the furniture. Our concerns are made more concrete as it is soon revealed that someone has deliberately opened one of the windows whish the housekeeper Mrs Oates insists was earlier shut. Another moment of suspense is created as off-camera we hear Mrs Oates cry out as she walks out. The culprit – a bulldog- is soon revealed. Such switches (and those critiquing and supporting patriarchy) are part of the ‘rhythm’ of the film’s melodrama.

spiral DMMore specifically gothic tropes such as a woman carrying a candlestick exploring the space of the house also appear. While three women (Mrs Oates, Blanche and Helen) perform this action, only the heroine is actively investigating. Mrs Oates is seeking brandy in the cellar (which it is later revealed her employer Professor Warren has deliberately let her steal so that she will be incapacitated and  unable to interfere in his crimes)  and Blanche is simply retrieving her suitcase so she can leave. Helen alone is investigating by going looking for the missing Blanche. Shortly after Helen finds Blanche murdered, Steven appears on the scene and Helen is proactive in taking action – she utilises Mrs Oates’ candle trick to trick him into the cellar and lock the door. Interestingly other aspects of the heroine wearing a nightgown (see The Innocents 1961) is fulfilled by Blanche and later Mrs Warren who has places her house coat over her bedclothes when she shoots her stepson.

Staircases also play an important role. We noted the striking high angle shot which details Mrs Warren at the top of the staircase shooting her stepson several times. Her powerful position cats her as judge and executioner. More generally, character are often ascending and descending them. It is useful to bear in mind Mary Ann Doane’s comment on the staircase’s significance as a space of ‘transition’ (1987, pp. 135-6: https://melodramaresearchgroupextra.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/melodrama-reading-doanes-paranoia-and-the-specular/) Wespiral mirror particularly noted the difference between the use of the huge front formal staircase (more usually used by the family) and the shadowy back stairs (for the servants). While the former were ascended a lot the back stairs were mostly descended. The fact the prominently placed mirror occupied liminal space by appearing half way up the formal staircase was also discussed. We found the killer POV shots occurring here especially tense, reminding us of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).

 

You can find more information on Some Must Watch here: https://melodramaresearchgroupextra.wordpress.com/?s=some+must+watch)

 

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

Summary of Discussion on Rebecca

After recovering from the experience of watching all the dramatic happenings, our discussion of the film included: the second Mrs de Winter as ‘gothic heroine’ in terms of her being an ‘almost investigator’ as well as her naivety and youth; the way ‘dress tells the woman’s story’; Mrs Danvers’ literal and metaphorical hand in running the house; Hitchcockian set-pieces; the eternal mystery of Rebecca.

We began by noting some differences between the second Mrs de Winter (Joan Fontaine) and other Gothic film heroines. Comparison to Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) elucidates this matter. Some of our recent focus has been on Gothic heroine as explorer – often in the dark, with a candlestick, and that this, in opposition to someRebecca candle expectations, reveals the woman actively exploring space.  In Rebecca only Mrs Danvers receives this attention. This occurs toward the film’s end, just prior to her setting light to Manderley. We are afforded a shot of Danvers, with the candle light playing wickedly on her face, and it is soon revealed she is creeping towards a sleeping, innocent and endangered second Mrs de Winter.

Grand-Staircase-at-Manderley-in-RebeccaThe second Mrs de Winter does, nonetheless, get to explore the space of the house to an extent. She is what Lisa M. Dresner terms as ‘almost investigator’ (pp. 163-4)[i]. Indeed most of the second Mrs de Winter’s movement around the house is somewhat blundering.  Understandably she is unfamiliar with where certain rooms are situated. Notably she also manages to trip over her own feet, rather like a puppy, in front of the servants as she exits the dining room following her first hurried breakfast.

early costumeSuch clumsiness links to the character’s youth. Her naivety and innocence prized by Maxim (Laurence Oliver) who states that he wants her to say a ‘child’ and a ‘girl’. The film is a ‘growing-up’ narrative, however, with the second Mrs de Winter gaining confidence as time progresses.  This is especially shown by costume.  The pale twinset and tweed skirt and unadorned or Alice-banded hair which characterise her early in the film gives way to her wearing a sophisticated black evening gown and pearls. Her excitement at her new dress is soon quelled by Maxim. After his unenthusiastic reaction – he reminds her that he stated at the beginning of their romance that he never wanted to see her wearing a black gown and a string of pearls – she looks uncomfortable, tugging at her dress. Maxim is made even angrier when his new wife dons a copy of Lady Caroline de Winter’s dress.  She finds her level in the dark tailored skirt suit and hat she wears at the inquest into Rebecca’s death. Rebecca inquestThis comments on, as Jane Gaines expresses, ‘how dress tells the woman’s story’[ii]. We also commented that Maxim comes to appreciate his second wife’s newly-found strength, with the film also focusing on how he comes to terms with her evolution.

Rebecca’s costumes also play an important part in the film. In addition to the second Mrs de Winter unwittingly copying the last dress her predecessor wore at a ball, Mrsrebecca negligee Danvers’s treatment of Rebecca’s clothes is revealing. She has kept Rebecca’s bedroom just as it was and insists on showing it to her previous mistress’ replacement. Danvers’ handling of Rebecca’s fur coat and especially her sheer underwear are significant  – she tellingly states that ‘you can see my hand’ thought the flimsy fabric of the negligee.

This literal hand also directs our attention to Danvers’ more metaphorical hand in directing the second Mrs de Winter around the space of Rebecca’s bedroom, motioning to her to sit whilst she pretends to brush the substitute Rebecca’s hair. Danvers’ control extends to the rest of the house. She has also kept the morning room just as it was – complete with Rebecca’s address book, menus, and compromising letters. Danvers’ domination of the house, and arguably the film, is seen in the even more public space of the entrance hall. This is especially evident when we compare the second Mrs de Winter’s return to Manderley (at the opening of the film) to her initial entrance. In the former she is in charge of the voice over narration, framing our understanding, while in the latter.  Danvers has stamped her authority by lining up her battalion of staff to intimidate her new mistress.  The blurring between the drawing of battle lines between the two women and the possibility of the second Mrs de Winter replacing Rebecca in Rebecca-movie-Manderleys-Great-HallDanvers’ affections is shown in one simple but effective gesture in this scene.  It is revealed that the second Mrs de Winter has dropped her gloves and both women bend to retrieve them. While this shows the second Mrs de Winter’s unease around servants it might also be interpreted as either her unwittingly throwing down the gauntlet to Danvers or indeed as a courtship ritual.

Judith Anderson’s intriguing and creepily effective performance also prompted thought about the way her part was written compared to the final film product. Furthermore we noted some Hitchcockian set-pieces. The audience’s watching of the newly-weddedRebecca home movie couple screening their honeymoon home movies masterfully contrasts the carefree happenings on screen to the now stilted relationship of the pair.  This occurs just after Maxim’s unenthusiastic response to his wife’s new dress and he starts to behave in an even more threatening manner, at times moving in front of the projector and blocking his wife (and our) access to the home movies.  (See Mary Ann Doane for a great analysis of this scene – pp. 163-169.)[iii]

rebecca-phoneSound was more dominant elsewhere as close ups of a ringing phone appeared on two notable occasions. In the first, at the Monte Carlo hotel, the soon-to-be second Mrs de Winter leaves her room due to the orders of her employer, the ghastly Mrs Van Hopper, just as Maxim returns her call.  The second at the cottage on the beach is more dramatic, interrupting Maxim’s confession to his new wife.  The set is especially atmospheric, if perhaps unbelievable with its still connected telephone, stubbed out cigarettes and cobwebs.  We also compared Rebecca to some of Hitchcock’s other works. Rear Window (1954) also includes a tense phone call scene though we thought the tone of Rebecca better matched The Lady Vanishes (1939) – partly due to the Britishness (or affected Britishness) of the actors in both.

We ended by commenting that in the end we knew little about either Mrs de Winter. Speculation about Rebecca’s ‘unspeakable’ behaviour dominated. Despite the Hays Code, the film is explicit that Rebecca has been indulging in an adulterous affair with her cousin Favell (George Sanders) which may have resulted in a pregnancy.  But what previous medical ailments meant she needed to visit the backstreet doctor several times under the alias of Mrs Danvers?  And what was the nature of the relation between Rebecca and ‘Danny’?  Tamar mentioned that at around the time of writing Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier wrote a short story also focused on a character named Rebecca. This Rebecca’s aberrant behaviour is elucidated – she behaves coldly to the story’s male narrator as she finds her sexual fulfilment with a wooden doll.

Apologies for the spoiler, but you can find the story in full here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/apr/30/the-doll-daphne-du-maurier

In addition, here are some posts about Rebecca on The Toast’s website Lies mentioned:

http://the-toast.net/2015/07/13/the-sequel-to-rebecca-the-second-mrs-de-winter-deserves/

http://the-toast.net/2015/10/08/in-1937-daphne-du-maurier-wrote-a-horror-story-about-sex-toys/

 

[i] Lisa M. Dresner,  “A Case Study of Rebecca”.  The Female Investigator in Literature, Film, and Popular Culture (2006): 154-182.

[ii] Gaines, Jane. 1991. “Costume and Narrative: How dress tells the woman’s story” in Gaines, Jane and Herzog, Charlotte, eds, Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body. New York and London: Routledge.

[iii] Mary Anne Doane, “Female Spectatorship and the Machines of Projection: Caught and Rebecca.” The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s (1987): 155-175.

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

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 9th of March, 5-7pm, in Jarman 7

All are very welcome to join us for our next screening and discussion session, which will take place on the 9th of March, 5-7pm, in Jarman 7.

We will be showing Frances’ choice: The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade, 93 mins).

Double#2

Frances has very kindly provided the following introduction:

There is a moment at the beginning of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella The Double when the main protagonist, Yakov Petrovitch Golyadkin, is first waking up in the morning and it is observed: ‘For two minutes, however, [Golyadkin] lay in his bed without moving, as though he were not yet quite certain whether he were awake or still asleep, whether all that was going on around him were real and actual, or the continuation of his confused dreams.’ This description imaginatively captures the experience of watching the 2013 film of the same name, directed by Richard Ayoade and starring Jesse Eisenberg. Just like Golyadkin’s reflections in the Russian short story, we as viewers of the film are left wondering at the movie’s conclusion whether what we have watched has a logical explanation, or whether it is the product of the protagonist’s ‘confused dreams.’ The film is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s work but our main protagonist is now Simon James. Simon lives a dull and monotonous life, spending most of his waking moments working in a dreary office, where he is ignored and shunned by his colleagues. The rest of his time is spent unsuccessfully wooing a work colleague and neighbour Hannah, who he watches in her apartment through a telescope when at home. Simon’s life changes dramatically, however, when a new employee appears at work and is the exact physical double of Simon. This doppelgänger – named James Simon – is physically identical to Simon in every way but the former’s life could not be more different. Where Simon is reserved and his work efforts remain unacknowledged by his peers, James is confident, successful and popular with everyone. James even manages to seduce Hannah. Simon’s bewilderment at the situation is heightened by the fact that no one else sees James as a double: only Simon can perceive the uncanny resemblance between the two men. Simon soon realises that James’s presence in his life is intolerable and the story focuses on Simon’s attempts to resolve the situation.

The Double is a British film which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was critically well received. Ayoade updates Dostoyevsky’s story to a modern setting but the exact location and time setting of the film is not explicitly stated. The lack of spatial or temporal orientation helps to establish the unsettling, detached and bleak tone of the film and the narrative’s conclusion remains ambiguous. The story’s portrayal of a doppelgänger – and particularly how this physical impossibility is not acknowledged or even noticed by any other character except Simon – is key for creating this eerie mood. It is possible to see several influences at work in Ayoade’s film, including aspects of Kafka, Terry Gilliam and David Lynch, and the film’s use of musical extracts from Franz Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger (which also tells the story of a man’s confrontation with his own double) helps to evoke the work of E.T.A Hoffmann. In this way The Double is uncanny in the Freudian sense of the word: through his analysis of Hoffmann’s work, Freud theorises that the figure of the double is undoubtedly uncanny, as the presence of identical bodies raises questions as to the uniqueness of an individual. The figure of the double also occupies a tentative position between life and death, and in Hoffmann’s tale this power has supernatural implications with the Sandman character. In many ways The Double is evocative of the story and tone of Hoffmann’s Der Sandman. Like Nathaniel in Hoffmann’s work, Simon is also the only protagonist within the diegesis who experiences the moment of seeing a double. In Nathaniel’s case, this doppelgänger is of the Sandman who reappears in various guises throughout the narrative. For Simon, it is his own body which is doubled through James. In both stories, the double figure is a disruptive force and a source of evil; it quickly becomes apparent that the protagonist and the doppelgänger cannot both exist. It also remains unclear how the events described in Der Sandman and The Double should be interpreted. Does the doppelgänger actually exist, or is he a product of the protagonist’s troubled mind? In a manner evocative of the earlier description in Dostoyevsky’s novel, Freud notes that Hoffmann ‘leaves us in doubt as to whether we are dealing with the initial delirium of the panic-stricken boy or an account of events that must be taken as real within the world represented in the tale.’

It is for these reasons that The Double operates quite differently from some the other films screened in this season on the double. The film features an actual doppelgänger whose presence is unexplained, unlike some of the other films where this doubling is explained, for example, through mistaken identity or sibling similarities. Yet the melodrama of the film stems, like the other stories shown, from the double character. In The Double it is James’s intrusion into Simon’s life which illuminates themes such as unrequited love, dysfunctional family units, a crisis of the self, the pain of loss and attempted suicide, and entrapment within an unfulfilling and mundane life. Despite these highly melodramatic themes, the tone of the film is difficult to articulate. The film’s opening demonstrates this well. We are introduced to Simon on a drab looking train on his way to work. There are few other characters occupying the carriage where Simon sits silently, and yet an intimidating stranger demands Simon move. Simon quietly and nervously acquiesces to the unreasonable demand. Similarly, moments later Simon attempts to leave the train but is constantly stopped by another passenger loading packages onto the carriage who ignores Simon’s need to alight. The scene successfully encapsulates Simon’s tragic existence and it is frustrating, saddening and uncomfortable to watch. Yet the scene is also darkly humorous, as the ridiculousness of the situation becomes comic. It is the complexity of the film’s tone and the ambiguity of its narrative which makes The Double a compelling viewing experience and challenges the viewer to make sense of these strange and chaotic interactions. Should the events portrayed in The Double ultimately be interpreted as ‘real and actual’, or are they the product of ‘confused dreams’? It will be interesting to see what conclusions we draw in our discussion after the film.

I hope to see you there!

REMINDER: Maternal Melodrama Symposium on 3rd of June

Posted by Sarah

Just a gentle reminder that the Melodrama Research Group’s one-day Maternal Melodrama Symposium will take place in the Grimond Building on the Canterbury campus on Tuesday 3rd of June from 10am-5pm.

Schedule for day

10.00 – 10.30 Welcome and refreshments (GS6)

10.30 – 12.30 Videographic essays and the Maternal Melodrama (GLT3)

Pam Cook: Paratext and Subtext: Reading Mildred Pierce as Maternal Melodrama

Catherine Grant: Studying Old and New Maternal Melodramas Videographically

12.30 – 1.30 Lunch (GS6)

1.30 – 3.30 Afternoon papers (GLT3)

Keeley Saunders: Transitioning and the Maternal Melodrama: Parental Roles in Transamerica

Lavinia Brydon:  The Suffering and Sacrifices of a Mother (Country): Examining                                   the Scarred Irish Landscape in The Last September (1999)

Tamar Jeffers McDonald:  All That Costume Allows: Does Dress Tell the Mother’s    Story?

Lies Lanckman: “All the melodramatics of my life are past!”: The Fan Magazine as a Melodramatic Medium

Ann-Marie Fleming: “It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present”:  Exploring the melodramatic depictions of the women from Grey Gardens (1975 and 2009)”

3.30 – 4.30 Tea and summary (GS6)

The following link should help you find your way around campus:

http://www.kent.ac.uk/maps/canterbury/canterbury-campus/building/grimond-building/glt3

Do join us if you can.

Next Term’s Screenings

Posted by Sarah

We can now confirm the films selected for screening in advance of our maternal melodrama symposium on the 3rd of June.

Stella Dallas

These are:

Stella Dallas (1937, King Vidor) Tuesday 13 May, 4-7pm, Studio 6

Mildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz) Tuesday 20 May, 4-7pm, Studio 6

The Old Maid (1939, Edmund Goulding) Tuesday 27 May, 4-7pm, Studio 6

Introductions to these films will be posted at a later date.

And please note the room change: we will be in Jarman Studio 6.

 

Dion Boucicault’s melodrama The Octoroon on Radio 3

Posted by Sarah

I just thought I’d draw attention to a radio adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859) which broadcast as part of Drama on 3 on Sunday 5th of May. Boucicault is of particular interest to us at Kent as the Templeman Library’s Special Collections hold much archive material relating to the man and his productions: (http://www.kent.ac.uk/library/specialcollections/theatre/boucicault/index.html)

If you hurry, you may still be able to catch it on the BBC iplayer! http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01ryffy/Drama_on_3_Curated_by_Mark_Ravenhill_The_Octoroon/(Sadly I think this link only works for those in the UK.)

The octoroon

 

The following blurb is from the BBC website:

By Dion Boucicault Adapted by Mark Ravenhill

 

As part of a season of plays curated by playwright Mark Ravenhill, BBC Radio 3 presents new production of Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama The Octoroon – a play that sparked debates about the abolition of slavery and the role of theatre in politics. The drama was recorded in front of an audience at Theatre Royal Stratford East, the venue that saw an earlier production of the same play in 1885.

 

The story centres around the inhabitants of the Louisiana plantation of Terrebonne. Zoe, the “octoroon” of the title, is the daughter of its owner Judge Peyton by one of his slaves, but she has been raised as part of the family. When the Judge dies, the plantation falls into financial ruin and the Judge’s handsome nephew George arrives as heir apparent. George and Zoe soon find themselves in love, but their future happiness is thrown into jeopardy by the plantation’s evil overseer Jacob McLosky who has dastardly designs on both the property and Zoe. McLosky will stop at nothing – not even murder.

 

Dion Boucicault’s play contains all the elements of great melodrama – doomed love, murder, corruption, and live musical accompaniment throughout. When it first opened, two years before the start of the American Civil War, The Octoroon sparked debates about the abolition of slavery and the role of theatre in politics.

Cast (in alphabetical order):

 

Mrs Peyton …. Barbara Barnes Sunnyside …. Geoffrey Burton Jacob M’Closky …. Steven Hartley Salem Scudder …. Toby Jones Wahnotee …. Earl Kim Dora Sunnyside …. Claire Lams Paul …. John MacMillan Zoe …. Amaka Okafor Ratts …. Paul Stonehouse Pete …. David Webber George Peyton …. Trevor White

Music composed and performed by Colin Sell

Director: Sasha Yevtushenko Production Co-ordinator: Lesley Allan Studio Managers: Colin Guthrie, Alison Craig, Steve Oak Executive Producer: Jeremy Mortimer.

  • Broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 8:30PM Sun, 5 May 2013
  • Available until 10:02PM Sun, 12 May 2013
  • First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 8:30PM Sun, 5 May 2013
  • Categories
  • Duration 90 minutes

 

 

For more information on Dion Boucicault, visit the University of Kent’s Special Collections pages: http://www.kent.ac.uk/library/specialcollections/theatre/boucicault/index.html

Love on the Dole links

Posted by Sarah

I found some vey useful discussion relating to Love on the Dole on the BFI’s website.

BFI

Find a synopsis of the film and a consideration of its importance here: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/485682/

There are also wider comments on Social Realism and British Cinema: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1037898/

 

 

Do log in to comment on these if you wish, or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add more.

Summary of Discussion on Love on the Dole

Posted by Sarah

Unfortunately we only had time for a brief discussion, but if anyone would like to add their thoughts do log in and comment, or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk.

It was noted that a melodramatic plot certainly formed the core of the film. The main female character Sally Hardcastle (played by Deborah Kerr) suffered losing her fiancé, Larry. In addition she was forced to become a rich man’s mistress in order to save her family.

However the film did not only focus on Sally – even on her romance. Much time was given to portraying her immediate family (father, mother and brother Harry and his love life), and more surprisingly to the local gossipy women.

Due to this, the sense of melodrama was not constant throughout, with the melodramatic ‘action’ picking up towards the end with Larry’s death at the protest and Sally’s subsequent decision to sacrifice herself for her family. The film’s concern with the wider social issues of politics, the working man, the place of women etc added to the sense that the melodrama was diffuse. Arguably collective working class suffering was depicted. Since melodrama is often about the bourgeois and the individual (as we saw in the 1940 UK version of Gaslight) this appeal to social realism sat rather awkwardly.

The use of music was also discussed, with the evident difference between the city and country interludes commented upon.

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 8th May, Jarman 7, 5-7pm

Posted by Sarah

All are welcome to attend the first of the Summer Term’s screening and discussion sessions which will take place on the 8th of May in Jarman 7, from 5pm to 7pm.

We will be showing Love on the Dole (John Baxter, 1941) 99 mins

Love on the Dole 2

John Baxter’s film starred Deborah Kerr and Clifford Evans (see picture above) and was based on Walter Greenwood’s 1933 novel of the same name. Set in the north of England during the Great Depression, the plot concerns unemployment and poverty amongst the working classes.

Due to its subject matter, the novel was not permitted to be filmed by the British Board of Film Censors until 1941. Its realistic approach to social problems prefigures the Social Realism British films of the 1960s.

The intersection (or perhaps inherent contradiction) of realism and melodrama will provide a focus for our discussion, while the matter of class is also an important one for us to consider.

Do join us for this critically acclaimed piece of British film history.