Melodrama: Genre, Style and Sensibility

Columbia University Press, 2005

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Melodrama: Genre, Style and Sensibility identifies three distinct but connected concepts through which it is possible to make sense of melodrama; either as a genre, originating in European theatre of the 18th and 19th century, as a specific cinematic style, epitomised by the work of Douglas Sirk or as a sensibility that emerges in the context of specific texts, speaking to and reflecting the desires, concerns and anxieties of audiences.

Melodrama, however one might understand the term, always has the ability to provoke strong emotions in audiences, from tears of sorrow and identification, to derisive laughter. These powerful and contradictory responses are duplicated, to a greater or lesser degree, in the debates that have circulated amongst film scholars about what constitutes melodrama in cinema, its function as a genre, a filmic style or an expressive code. The melodrama debate that commences at the start of the 1970s includes some of the most complicated and difficult ideas in Film Studies and engages with almost all of the key theoretical ideas within the discipline, from questions of genre and authorship, to issues surrounding representation, aesthetics and the ideological function of cinema.

The challenge of this book then is to organise a range of, often conflicting, critical responses to the subject of melodrama into a coherent structure as an introduction to this complex area of film theory. Readers should be aware that this book offers no single definition of what melodrama is. Rather this book should be understood as offering an account of the various ways in which film theorists have made use of melodrama as a term and its associated debates to discuss key issues such as authorship, genre, ideology, cinematic mise-en-scene, feminism, psychoanalysis, reception and affect.