World Film Melodrama

Jane Gaines

A theoretical and historical approach to the exported and transnationalized popular narrative form that has its origins on the Victorian theatrical stage and finds its continuation in television soap opera  We will ask about the American dominant modality exported by the West as it takes on national cultural features in the East, the South, and the Middle East--China, India, Mexico, as well as Iran--where it leaves its earlier theatrical and literary sources. Exemplary national cinemas might also be pre-revolutionary Russian, German heimat and Italian silent era diva films as well as American Technicolor sound films of the 1950s. Melodrama raises key issues in the field: the question of “universal language,” cinema as “vernacular” and the gendering of genre as seen in the question of “male melodrama.” And it is where the problematics of affect theory are hotly debated, from Spinoza to Berlant. The silent to sound divide (word vs. wordlessness) is examined with attention to the classical score associated with the Viennese-trained Max Steiner. And in order to ask if another sense of the bodily has emerged after the heyday of feminist film theory, we will ask how trans studies is relevant to melodrama theory. Readings include Edgar Morin, Peter Brooks, Linda Williams, Zhen Zhang, Ira Bhaskar, Ling Hon Lam, among others. A special unit on Korean melodrama – from Kim K. Young to Bong Joon-ho. Undergraduates by permission.