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Le mélodrame filmique revisité / Revisiting Film Melodrama

de Dominique Nasta (Éditeur de volume) Muriel Andrin (Éditeur de volume) Anne Gailly (Éditeur de volume)
©2014 Collections 448 Pages

Résumé

Dans une confrontation inédite des approches francophones et anglo-saxonnes signées par des experts internationalement reconnus aussi bien que par de jeunes chercheurs, Le mélodrame filmique revisité propose d’ouvrir le champ d’études vers de nouvelles perspectives historiques et esthétiques. En effet, le mélodrame souffre, depuis ses débuts cinématographiques, d’une exploitation péjorative qui restreint le « mode mélodramatique » à la manipulation des émotions du public et à une representation excessive sur le plan esthétique. Minimisé, expédié, ce genre mérite pourtant d’être enfin l’objet d’une revalorisation à travers des approaches innovantes et un corpus élargi à la télévision, l’animation et l’internet.
Revisiting Film Melodrama brings forth pioneering French and English-speaking approaches from internationally known experts as well as by young researchers, aiming to broaden the research area through new historical and aesthetic perspectives. Indeed, film melodrama has too often been under-estimated, most surveys having essentially focused on the audience’s emotions and on excessive representations, often neglecting the complexities of the «melodramatic mode». More than ever, melodrama as film genre requires a comprehensive, multi-layered re-appraisal which includes references to the genre at work on television, animation and the internet.

Table des matières

  • Couverture / Cover
  • Titre / Title
  • Copyright
  • Sur l’éditeur / About the editor
  • À propos du livre / About the book
  • Pour référencer cet eBook / This eBook can be cited
  • Table des matières / Contents
  • Préface (Dominique Nasta, Muriel Andrin et Anne Gailly)
  • Remerciements / Acknowledgments
  • Introduction (Christine Gledhill)
  • Le mélodrame : entre globalisation de l’empathie et standardisation de l’intime (Thomas Elsaesser)
  • Mélodrame et théorie des modes (Jean-Loup Bourget)
  • Première Partie / Part One: Perspectives Transdisciplinaires : Retour aux Origines du Mélodrame Cinématographique et Relecture du Mélodrame Classique / Transdisciplinary Perspectives: The Origins of Film Melodrama and Revisiting Classical Melodrama
  • Aspects du mélodramatique dans le cinéma des premiers temps (Sabine Lenk & Frank Kessler)
  • Les formes mélodramatiques du temps de la Triangle (1913-1919) (Marc Vernet)
  • The Original Serial Queen. Capitola Black and the Serial Queen of the 1910s (Anke Brouwers)
  • Doux Jésus ! Prolégomènes à une sous-catégorisation générique : Le mélodrame de l’Enfance (Pathé, 1900-1913) (Anne Gailly)
  • The Melodramatic Moment as Allegory in Griffith’s Biograph Films (Tom Paulus)
  • “Captiver” au lieu de “paralyser”. Henry Albert Philipps, pourfendeur des excès mélodramatiques au cinéma (Laurent Guido)
  • Kean d’Alexandre Volkov : intertextualité et mélodrame (Natalia Noussinova)
  • Queen Elizabeth (1912), le mélodrame et la formation du feature film (Jean-Marc Leveratto)
  • Le mélodrame chez Pagnol : une arme idéologique (Pierre Arbus)
  • Interaction des pôles créatifs dans le mélodrame hollywoodien au départ de pièces hongroises (Katalin Por)
  • Deux visages du jeu mélodramatique au cinéma : Garbo et Kidman (Christophe Damour)
  • Deuxième Partie / Part Two: Mélodrames Nationaux : Perspectives Européennes, Américaines et Asiatiques / National Melodramas: European, American and Asian Perspectives
  • L’amorosa menzogna: Novelization and Melodrama in the 1950s Italian Cinema (Stefania Giovenco)
  • À revisiter ? Mélodrame, néoréalisme et Rome, ville ouverte de Roberto Rossellini (Elena Dagrada)
  • Correspondances élémentaires : universalité du mélodrame (Christian Viviani)
  • 1960s Greek Meló: A Despised Genre (Olga Kourelou)
  • Amour en perdition. Le moment mélodramatique dans l’œuvre de Manoel de Oliveira (Mathias Lavin)
  • Mélodrame maternel et exode rural. Analyse, production et réception critique de La Aldea Maldita (1930) et Solas (1999) (David Asenjo Conde)
  • National Melodrama: Melodrama, Revolution, Nation (Nevena Daković)
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. Where is Marxism in Melodrama Theory? (Jane Gaines)
  • La mauvaise réputation et le malaise de l’histoire. le mélodrame québécois des années 1940-1950 (Pierre Véronneau)
  • Ethnography, Melodrama, Multiculturalism: Atanarjuat – The Fast Runner (Jean Bruce)
  • Quand le cinéma “sombre” dans le mélodrame. Le genre comme critère de dévalorisation dans la critique cinématographique mexicaine et cubaine. Étude de cas (Julie Amiot-Guillouet)
  • Melodrama, Modernity and National Identity in the Films of Viet Linh (Carrie Tarr)
  • Trauma, Melodrama and the Production of Historical Affect. Indian Cinema and the Figuration of The Partition and the Contemporary Communal Riot (Ira Bhaskar)
  • Troisième Partie / Part Three: Revisitation du Mélodrame Dans le Cinéma Actuel et les Nouveaux Médias / Reconsidering Melodrama in Contemporary Cinema and the New Media
  • Problématique de la compassion. La trilogie de la vengeance de Chan-wook Park comme exploration des vertus cathartiques du mélodrame cinématographique (Philippe Ortoli)
  • Les “mélodrames gangstéristes” américain des années 1990. Formes pathétiques de la romance et de l’affect amoureux masculin (Antoine Gaudin)
  • Cinématoscopie mélodramatique du réel : le cas de Satoshi Kon (Eric Dumont)
  • Métamorphoses du mélodrame. L’exemple de la télévision américaine contemporaine (Jean-Pierre Esquenazi)
  • Le mode mélodramatique dans les séries télévisées américaines contemporaines. 24h Chrono et Veronica Mars (Pierre-Olivier Toulza)
  • “My God! Your life is like a soap opera!” The Complex and Paradoxical Universe of the Soap: The Bold and the Beautiful (Pascal Lefèvre)
  • “I did not cry, but I sighed a lot” Users Reviews of Hollywood Melodramas on IMDb (Laurent Jullier)
  • Présentation des auteurs / Notes on Contributors
  • Présentation des éditeurs / Notes on Editors
  • Obras publicadas en la colección

← 10 | 11 → Préface

Dominique NASTA, Muriel ANDRIN et Anne GAILLY

Université Libre de Bruxelles

À l’heure de baliser nos territoires de recherches respectifs, nous avions pris une décision périlleuse à plus d’un titre : travailler au sein d’un terrain miné, dont il n’était souvent question dans le paysage francophone qu’en termes péjoratifs ; celui du mélodrame cinématographique. Fort heureusement, l’Université Libre de Bruxelles a toujours favorisé la recherche et l’exploration de sentiers peu balisés, sujets à controverse. En outre, la Cinematek (anciennement Cinémathèque royale de Belgique) nous a permis, grâce à la générosité de son précédent Conservateur Gabrielle Claes et à la sollicitude de ses collaborateurs, d’aller aussi loin que possible dans nos recherches tout en essayant d’éviter les redites et les stéréotypes dont ce genre a été victime.

Méprisé, minimisé, expédié, le mélodrame souffre en effet, depuis ses débuts cinématographiques, d’une utilisation péjorative qui restreint le “mode mélodramatique” à celui qui manipule les émotions du public et n’offre qu’une représentation pauvre mais excessive sur le plan esthétique. Le problème s’étend également aux multiples, et parfois contradictoires, utilisations du mot : on constate ainsi un véritable gouffre sémantique entre les premières acceptions du terme, alliant grand spectacle et sensation, affrontement d’entités morales et rhétorique basée sur les figures de l’excès, et celles plus tardives, mettant l’accent sur la psychologie du sacrifice et du pathos. La confusion joue également sur le fait que le terme peut inclure tout à la fois l’effet produit sur les spectateurs et les moyens mis en œuvre pour parvenir à ce résultat. De plus, si les sources du mélodrame classique théâtral sont restreintes et définies, celles du mélodrame filmique sont par contre fort diversifiées selon les différents théoriciens qui les attribuent aussi bien à la tragédie grecque qu’au roman bourgeois sentimental, à l’opéra italien ou encore au mélodrame théâtral victorien.

← 11 | 12 → Au niveau européen, la place du mélodrame dans les publications, les colloques et les festivals actuels ne semble pas augurer de nouveaux développements ; une perspective basée sur des études et des rétrospectives le plus souvent monographiques y est la plupart du temps privilégiée.1 Lorsqu’il est finalement abordé, le mélodrame est envisagé selon des approches très restreintes, notamment celles de réalisateurs emblématiques du genre ; ainsi, certains cinéastes (Douglas Sirk, Vincente Minnelli, Rainer Werner Fassbinder) sont inlassablement étudiés depuis plusieurs décennies. Et lorsque d’autres productions sont finalement abordées ou analysées, la non-disponibilité des sources ou encore leur appartenance à des cinématographies peu connues réduisent considérablement la portée de ces approches plus marginales.

Outre les problèmes de reconnaissance, de lisibilité ou de corpus, le genre mélodramatique est encore confronté à des impasses théoriques. La nécessité de redéfinir le genre pour ce qu’il est et non pour ce qu’il est devenu au fil des ans, est apparue comme une évidence. C’est lors du colloque international Il Melodramma organisé à Ischia en 2004 par Elena Dagrada qu’une douzaine de spécialistes du genre ont tenté, pour la première fois, d’en décloisonner les nœuds thématiques et nationaux tout en plaçant leur réflexion dans une approche esthétique transdisciplinaire.

Le but du colloque international Le mélodrame filmique revisité / Revisiting Film Melodrama, qui s’est tenu en novembre 2009 à l’Université Libre de Bruxelles et à la Cinematek, n’a pas seulement été d’élargir plus encore cette ouverture vers de nouvelles perspectives historiques, tout en revisitant les voies ouvertes par Peter Brooks, Sergei Balukhatyi et Nicholas Vardac : le colloque se proposait également de recalibrer les pistes de la théorie vers des domaines porteurs tels que les théories cognitives des émotions, les investigations philosophiques sur la souffrance et le pathos, l’ouverture du champ aux dimensions mythiques du genre, l’intermédialité, etc.

Les actes de ce colloque constituent l’aboutissement d’années de recherches, jalonnées de participations à des conférences internationales, de publication de livres, de chapitres d’ouvrages collectifs, de thèses de doctorat, mais aussi de nombreux séminaires de vulgarisation en Belgique et à l’étranger. Témoins de trois journées d’échanges et de débats fructueux, ils ne marquent pas seulement la volonté d’offrir une ← 12 | 13 → approche aussi complète que complexe en rassemblant et confrontant le point de vue, parfois divergent, des autorités du genre : ils confirment également l’envergure internationale de ce colloque par la publication de communications de conférenciers provenant de plus de treize pays différents, soit la représentation de trois continents, ainsi que sa valeur de plateforme scientifique dans la capitale de l’Europe. Enfin, ils ancrent de nouvelles pistes de réflexion dans les travaux de jeunes chercheurs et doctorants portant sur un genre de plus en plus omniprésent, tant dans la cinématographie contemporaine que dans les productions télévisuelles.

Au-delà des racines théâtrales, littéraires ou picturales qui lui ont permis de se développer en tant que catégorie cinématographique, le mélodrame a lui-même évolué et intégré des métamorphoses spécifiques. Pour autant, le “mode mélodramatique”, sans doute plus intrusif encore que le genre lui-même, n’en a pas perdu sa vitalité et marque le cinéma contemporain de son impact essentiel. Il est donc peu étonnant aujourd’hui de voir se côtoyer, sous l’égide du “mélodramatique”, à la fois les œuvres de réalisateurs contemporains consacrés par le genre, tels Pedro Almodovar ou Lars Von Trier, et des productions plus surprenantes, présentées par la critique comme relevant d’autres genres : ainsi, Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006), Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006), The Chaser (Hong-Jin Na, 2008), Partir (Catherine Corsini, 2009), 9 (film d’animation produit par Tim Burton, 2009), The Wrestler et Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2008 et 2011), The World (Jia Zhang Ke, 2004), Io sono l’amore (Luca Guadagnino, 2010) ou encore J’enrage de son absence (Sandrine Bonnaire, 2012) s’inscrivent, au travers de leurs caractéristiques narratives et stylistiques, au sein du mode mélodramatique, révélant, souvent de façon inattendue, la téléologie émotionnelle chère à Brooks et Balukhatyi.

Enfin, les actes de ce colloque visent à édifier – pour reprendre la terminologie de Peter Brooks – le genre lui-même afin de nous permettre de l’envisager dans toute sa splendeur, sa complexité et son actualité : A Many-Splendored Thing, comme l’exprime si bien le titre du mélodrame réalisé par Henry King en 1955. ← 13 | 14 →

_____________

1La situation est quelque peu différente au sein du monde académique Outre-Atlantique, où les recherches et les manifestations ayant trait au mélodrame filmique se poursuivent à un rythme soutenu. En témoigne le récent colloque Screen Melodrama: Global Perspectives,organisé conjointement par Columbia University et New York University en mars 2013.

← 14 | 15 → Remerciements

Nous tenons à remercier les personnes et, au travers elles, les institutions qui ont rendu possibles la tenue de ce colloque international et la publication de ses actes : Emilie Menz (Directrice des publications auprès de PIE Peter Lang à Bruxelles), Didier Viviers (Recteur de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles), Manuel Couvreur (Doyen de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles), Jean-Pierre Devroey (Directeur des Bibliothèques de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles), Serge Jaumain (Vice-Recteur aux Relations Internationales de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles et Directeur du CENA), Véronique Hallouin (Directrice du Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique), la Fondation Universitaire, Christine Gledhill (pour ses précieux conseils et pour avoir aimablement accepté de rédiger l’introduction au présent ouvrage), Gabrielle Claes (précédent Conservateur de la Cinematek), Freddy Malonda, Hilde Delabie, Stef Franck, Sam De Wilde et – last but not least – nos inestimables aides à l’organisation générale du colloque : Adi Chesson, Astrid De Munter, Géraldine Cierzniewski, Laetitia De Jaegher, Maria Palacios Cruz, Naïm Vandenbreede, Arnaud Watlet et Sébastien Vrydaghs.

Acknowledgments

We wish to thank those – persons but also the institutions they represent – who made this international conference and its publication possible: Emilie Menz (Director of PIE Peter Lang in Brussels), Didier Viviers (Rector of the Université Libre de Bruxelles), Manuel Couvreur (Dean of the Philosophy and Letters Faculty at the Université Libre de Bruxelles), Jean-Pierre Devroey (Director of the Libraries of the Université Libre de Bruxelles), Serge Jaumain (Vice-Rector of International Relations of the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Director of CENA), Véronique Hallouin (Director of the National Fund for Scientific Research), the University Foundation, Christine Gledhill (for her precious advice and for having accepted to write the introduction of this publication), Gabrielle Claes (former Director of the Cinematek), Freddy Malonda, Hilde Delabie, Stef Franck, Sam De Wilde and – last but not least – our extremely precious helpers for the general organization of the conference: Adi Chesson, Astrid De Munter, Géraldine Cierzniewski, Laetitia De Jaegher, Maria Palacios Cruz, Naïm Vandenbreede, Arnaud Watlet and Sébastien Vrydaghs. ← 15 | 16 →

← 16 | 17 → Introduction

Christine GLEDHILL

University of Sunderland

This collection of essays addresses melodrama in its remarkable temporal, geographic and generic diversity. It bears witness to melodrama’s long endurance over time, adapting to changing socio-historical circumstances and interconnecting past and present, tradition and modernity. It highlights a mutability that enabled nineteenth-century melodramatic practice to draw from and find realization in a range of cultural forms and social arenas, from narrative genre painting, popular music, classic and serial fiction to cinema and now television. Finally, the volume focuses melodrama’s transnationality, emerging and travelling between the industrializing countries of nineteenth-century Europe and America and now claimed within different national-cultural formations beyond the West. So despite its relegation through the first decades of the twentieth century to the margins of cultural criticism (if not of entertainment practices) as ‘old-fashioned’ and ideologically pernicious, melodrama is now displacing the long reign of realism as term of critical choice to account for a diversity of screen genres. Such longevity and transnationality of a mutable popular form asks what kind of phenomenon it represents. What conclusions can we draw from the diversity of topics and approaches collected in this volume? What critical models and concepts do we need to grasp its mutability? Above all, if melodrama has become a critical term of choice, what is it now enabling us to see, to talk about? Three areas of discussion emerge. First the concepts of modality and genre; second the uses of historicization; and third, where melodrama leads us today: towards questions of aesthetics, affect, emotion and their relation to politics.

Terms such as genre, mode, modality, style, form, content, theme appear in different usages in these essays. As Jean-Loup Bourget points out, melodrama is defined according to incommensurate categories of style and content. Read within a wider project to understand the re-emergence of melodrama as a critical force in the late twentieth century, ← 17 | 18 → these different approaches suggest that definition, whether in terms of themes, particular kinds of stylistic effect, audience address or affiliation, works only to illuminate specific sub-groups or practices. Taken together, these essays emphasize melodrama’s chameleon-like adaptability to different historical periods, national-cultural formations, and institutions. We need, then, to ask not what melodrama is but what it does. If the usefulness of melodrama for us now can no longer be confined to specific subject matter, delineated world, or emotional tenor, the diversity of these essays help articulate the parameters of its larger cultural and aesthetic field and methods of operation, foregrounding socio-cultural and aesthetic practices and affects.

Mode and modality have proved productive for attempts to conceptualize the amorphousness of melodrama. For a mode – realism, melodrama, comedy, romance – can orchestrate any range of materials within different orientations, crossing generic and national-cultural boundaries and appealing in different ways to different audiences. And many – including myself – have turned to mode as a way of articulating the perceptual and aesthetic practices of melodrama, using terms like perspective, framework, imagination, affect in order to articulate its work. But ‘mode’ as a kind of orchestration of materials involves, if not precisely fixed structures and taxonomic features, at least its own structuring proclivity. Thus the melodramatic mode involves orchestration of confrontation between antagonists exercising power or withstanding victimization; kinetic emotional appeals to the recognition and empathy of audiences; and aesthetic realization reaching beyond verbal articulation through heightened mise-en-scene, vocal and gestural embodiment, and musicalized soundscape. But whereas early melodramatic forms projected its conflictual dynamic outwards into opposing villains, heroines and last-minute heroes, increasing psychologization of character, begun with the gothic and later intensified with the cinematic close-up, led to doubled selves, whether external or internalized. Moreover, psychologization, fed by popular circulation of psychoanalytic concepts and performance practices, replicating changing codes of verisimilitude and naturalism, meant that melodrama, to be effective, had to evolve in tandem. Thus the question of mode becomes a question of melodramatization of protagonists, situations and conflicts which like other modal concepts – the romantic, noir, poetic – may infuse material approached in different registers or genres.

However, the concept of a trans-generic, trans-historical ‘mode’ will not easily reveal the kind of socio-historic, institutional and cultural specificities which subtend melodrama’s adaptability to different circumstances and hence its longevity. As the essays collected here suggest we still need a concept of ‘genre’ in order to locate specific ← 18 | 19 → institutional emergences, movements, translations and transformations of socio-cultural conventions and practices. Melodrama’s adaptability arises from its nineteenth-century emergence in a variety of forms designed for newly urbanizing, industrializing, capitalist societies, the social needs and contradictions of which found expression in personalized class, gendered, raced and national protagonists locked in locally pressing conflicts: forms that, consolidating into differentiated genres, spun off the ‘melodramatic’ as a shared mode capable of further generic proliferation. As a genre-producing machine for a new mass market, melodrama caught up the particular social conditions, ideological needs, cultural materials and topics of the moment, evolving from their combination entertainment practices and genres for new circumstances in later centuries (see Anne Gailly and the early Pathé melodramas featuring children, as well as Marc Vernet’s survey on films of the short-lived Triangle production company). Aligned with this conception, contemporary genre theory now offers a conception of ‘genericity’ that, rather than tabulating melodrama’s array of genres and sub-genres in strictly differentiated boxes, is capable of acknowledging the aesthetic and cultural productivity of genre production as a fluid, boundary-crossing, mutable process. This enables us to conceptualize the relation between the structuring proclivity and perspectival aesthetics of a mode to the specific, if only loosely bounded, and ever merging, splitting, and remixing fictional worlds fielded by film and television genres. As these essays suggest, continuously evolving sub-genres and cycles emphasize different facets of the melodramatic. Equally, the process of melodramatization crosses between different media and social arenas: between screen fictions, popular comics, newspaper journalism into television serials, talk shows and present-day political cultures.

Important to historicization of melodrama is inter-disciplinary and cross-media investigation, which in some essays relocates film melodrama’s strategies in different pictorial, theatrical and dramatic practices of its emergence (see Jean-Loup Bourget, Tom Paulus, Laurent Guido). Early twentieth-century defense of cinema as a new and independent art form, and in particular attempts to identify cinema with modernist and avant-garde art, emphasized its break with nineteenth-century practices, as if it could emerge without connection with (or only in negative reaction to) its legacy. Retroactive investigation, however, is important not to tie melodrama to origins (which cannot remain singular nor fixed for so mutable and transnational a form) but to counter still prevalent stereotypical images of ‘cheap’ Victorian melodrama – against which more ‘sophisticated’ cinematic developments are valued – which misconstrue or fail to assess their work in their own context or to see their continuing if transformed presence and effectivity in the different ← 19 | 20 → mediums of contemporary film and television: for example, the tableau as a momentary pause (however not stasis) for perception and response in a flow of disrupted and re-formed movement;1 the diverse relationships between gesture, music and voice,2 that together enable a heightened register of expression beyond everyday conventions; or the agency of a resisting heroine, who, if ‘unfriended’, is often not ‘helpless’. Anke Brouwers’ essay, contexting the serial queen of the teens and 1920s within a range of adventurous nineteenth-century heroines, offers an example of how looking beyond cinema to the traditions from which it emerged counters the presumptions through which modernity was claimed for the cinematic against ‘old-fashioned’ Victorianism.

Historicization of melodrama in nineteenth-century art and entertainment practices undermines originality as a key cultural value. For rising mass circulation, technological reproduction and intermingling of art and entertainment products enabled melodrama to feed off and remediate a diversity of acculturated forms and materials as part of its call to cultural recognition: news items, high cultural literary works and dramas, paintings made familiar through print shop windows, police gazettes and so on, appealing to audience recognition through the diverse artefacts and discourses of their cultures. Arguably, such re-cycling of the already mediated, acculturated sources of everyday life and expression makes it the most reflexive and socially revealing of forms, utilising not only topical issues but the social practices and forms through which cultures circulate and are recognised. In this context Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of ‘speech genres’ illuminates melodrama’s ‘genericity’.3 Arguing that all communicative initiatives emerge from social practices and the rooting of such practices in the socio-cultural relations between communicators, Bakhtin claims the generic or conventional basis of the communicative act. Any attempt at cultural expression reaches for available forms, themselves carrying the effects of past uses that must be re-oriented and re-accented to do new work. Thus if melodrama arises out the upheavals of modernity, the form itself must negotiate between past cultural practices and perceptions and ← 20 | 21 → emerging senses of self and position in the world. In this context, melodrama’s sub-genres, rooted in industrial process of rapid reproduction and expansion while tapping into the concerns and experiences of its audiences, re-cycle already acculturated sources of everyday life and expression. The ‘inauthenticity’ of Thomas Elsaesser’s talk-show melodramatists, speaking in ‘borrowed language, appropriated images and self-alienating gestures’ (as well as the melodramatic acting style of famous actors and actresses referred to in Christophe Damour’s essay) highlights the condition and struggle of all communication with the constraints of already acculturated language systems. If this is a perception that is implicitly recognized in the practices and theories of postmodernism, melodrama, working out of existing materials, is a form most suited to provide outlet for changing conditions. The melodramatic, circulating through a diversity of specifically addressed genres, gains its central role in popular culture in its constitutional ‘genericity’, which grounds its capacity to mediate past and present, private and public, objective and subjective, conjoining social, aesthetic and cultural imaginaries.

If recovery of past practices in their own context counteracts easy dismissal of melodrama’s nineteenth-century origins, it is also important to acknowledge the cultural work of its stereotyping. Thus several essays here explore melodrama’s critical reception in specific national-cultural contexts, focusing its changing cultural role within the emergence of mass society, as ‘realism’ associated with the expanding middle classes came to dominate critical value, impacting – if in different ways – on both established and popular demands of art and entertainment (see Frank Kessler and Sabine Lenk, Laurent Guido, Jean-Marc Leveratto and Laurent Jullier on IMDB user categories). However, if melodrama reclaimed recognition by adapting to changing codes of verisimilitude, it also negotiated easy stereotyping through self-parody in the undercutting comic commentary, often by subsidiary characters (see Laurent Guido, Katalin Por, Mathias Lavin). Thus theatrical and early film melodramatists, seeking to establish a mass and cross-class audience, mined melodrama’s duality – its recognition of everyday realities and its denial of their limitations – both enacting and parodying the high-flown preposterousness of their protagonists’ claims, hedging their bets with what might now be seen as a postmodern knowingness. But this has never stopped the ever-intensifying proliferation of melodrama’s stratagems and their demand to be taken seriously.

While historicization highlights the continuing if transmuted function of melodrama’s strategies in contemporary practice (see Thomas Elsaesser on the public display of private agony from the Victorian deathbed to the expose magazine; Jane Gaines on the changing ← 21 | 22 → significance of the deadline; or Antoine Gaudin on refound pathos in the American gangster film of the 1990s), transnational analysis opens up cross-cultural comparison, questioning assumptions of a film studies based on Hollywood as a universal standard for cinematic fiction. In this respect, studies in this volume of the use of melodrama in cinemas outside Hollywood – European and beyond the West – show how the melodramatised thematics of the familial, of gender and of personal trauma serve as the ground on which processes of modernization and globalization play out in culturally specific ways. These essays highlight melodrama’s negotiation of tensions between rural or national tradition and the urbanizing, individualizing and globalizing processes of modernization, mediated as conflicts in which gender, class or nation provide a personal, suffering body (see Olga Kourelou on Greek folk melodrama of the 1960s; David Asenjo Conde on maternal melodrama in Spanish cinema and Nevena Dakovic on the nation itself as victim of history). This diversity of national contexts and grounds of conflict show that in melodrama anybody can occupy positions of victim and oppressor, serving any ideological configuration, dominant or resistant. Equally, melodrama’s recruitment into a diversity of cultural formations complicate notions of a Hollywood dominated global mediascape. According to the alignment of particular melodramatic manifestations with local vernacular or internationally recognized European or American practices and values, different inputs contribute to the work, accommodating to or resisting the cultural dominant in given contexts. So if investigations beyond Hollywood show how melodrama burgeons with the impact of modernization, they also highlight a diversity of transnational and regional exchanges – for example Olga Kourelou’s analysis of the Ottoman influence in Greek folk melodrama as opposed to the European/Americanised Athenian forms; Natalia Noussinova’s analysis of Volkoff’s Kean;Julie Amiot-Guillouet’s essay on co-production and exchange of influences between Cuba and Mexico; Pierre Véronneau’s examination of the florescence of Quebecois melodrama in the 1940s-1950s, drawing on French models against the dominance of American cinema; Jean Bruce’s melodramatic-ethnographic reading of the Inuit film Atarnajuat and Nevena Dakovic’s analysis of the hybrid formation of melodrama as it has developed in former Yugoslav and now Serbian cinemas.

If ideological analysis reveals how social change is mediated through the personalized conflicts of melodrama, this does not explain how and why it works, an assumption underpinning its use in the search for the popular audience – see for example Véronneau on Quebecois melodrama, Pierre Arbus on Marcel Pagnol’s popular and militant melodramas or Stefania Giovenco on the photo novels that mediated ← 22 | 23 → popular Italian films of the 1950s to a wider public. Historicization, however, works through the lens of present concerns, both drawing from and feeding the alignment of the current critical enthusiasm for melodrama with an equally vigorous revival of discussion about aesthetics, affect and emotion. Melodrama, if nothing else, is, as Jean-Loup Bourget suggests, an aesthetic of affect. Most striking across these essays, written from twenty-first century perspectives, is their focus on and reinterpretation of melodramatic suffering and emotional extremes. The role of suffering in Victorian melodrama is perhaps what most alienated early twentieth-century critics, equating the enactment and full expression of suffering with a sentimentality seen as ‘unmanly’ and feminising. This in turn foregrounds the role of ‘woman’ as the body culturally given to the palpable exhibition of acute suffering, a body and social positionality often overdetermined by class or race, through and around which, as several of these essays show, social conflicts can so easily be played out. But while later feminists made claim on melodrama as a feeling form thematically centred on the contradictions lived by women under patriarchy, historicization finds a wider range of genres grouped within melodrama’s modal regime, for example crime, gothic, action, horror, western, backwoods melodrama and so on.4 Moreover examination of generic production within the early American film industry has raised questions about studio and publicity departments’ respective understandings of what melodrama was and who for, identifying melodrama with action and derring-do rather than the sentiment-fuelled and psychologised problems of women’s films and family dramas which feminists identified as the central concerns of melodrama.5 However, critical values and practices frequently do not coincide and variances themselves can be revealing. The strategic gendering of melodrama is a discursive practice by which different agencies and interest groups – studios, publicity departments, trade press, critics, audiences past and recent, film theorists – insert economic and cultural value to different ends. As Jane Gaines records, it was through left-wing polemics of the 1970s against realism and valorization of anti-realist counter-cinema that melodrama – at first, riding on the ← 23 | 24 → back of Cahiers du Cinema’s identification of ideology fissuring textual strategies – gained critical recognition. In this context it was for its ideological disruptiveness – as Thomas Elsaesser notes, its ‘tropes connoting excess and contradiction’ – that melodrama came to be valued, although it was not clear whether the emotional excesses of Sirkian family melodrama were what were exposed or themselves constituted the disruption. However, if feminists not withstanding seized on the ironic exposure of familial and feminine suffering in Hollywood family melodramas of the 1940s and 1950s as terrain to be recouped for women’s culture, the subsequent isolation of melodrama as a family-centred woman’s form (a model still haunting current definitions) has blocked recognition of its wider reach as mode and generator of a host of genres playing to different emotional affects, to different audiences, in different national contexts. Twentieth-century film criticism’s reduction of melodrama to its domestic variant assumes an opposition between action and emotion, which, serving to preserve other genres as not melodrama, installed a gendered binary in the heart of the genre system, equating suffering with feminizing passivity and action with masculine power.

This mutually reinforcing critical-cultural determinant – opposing reason and emotion – is challenged by feminism and, in tandem, by changing conditions and practices of genericity, including shifts in gendering and sexualisation of life styles and popular culture. For genres infect each other, and television in particular has provided both site and cause of infection through scheduled juxtaposition, not only supporting the bleeding into each other of soap opera and police series, mixing talk, feeling and action, but, as Thomas Elsaesser argues, in the siphoning off of melodramatic pathos by the talk show and reality TV. If the increasing publicness of emotional and personal life as celebrity and political cultures merge and authenticity is identified with personal testimony, it is unsurprising that melodrama’s techniques of hyperbole should become central. A perhaps unanticipated outcome, then, of feminism’s celebration of melodrama’s emotionalized aesthetic played through its domestic sub-genres is the admissibility of ‘aesthetic affect’ on the agenda of critics and filmmakers alike and with it the breaking down of the opposition between action and emotion as well as the gendering of genres (see, for example, Antoine Gaudin on the ‘sentimental gangster’ of 1990s Hollywood). This shift is furthered by contemporary gender practices and changing theories of spectatorship that question both the fixity of identity and the notion that we must identify with our gendered like, or, indeed take up any consistent position of identification. Thus current gender theory is as interested in ← 24 | 25 → male masochism as in female violence6 and the notion of identification is itself open to reassessment, not least from gay perspectives.

Résumé des informations

Pages
448
Année
2014
ISBN (PDF)
9783035264005
ISBN (ePUB)
9783035296471
ISBN (MOBI)
9783035296464
ISBN (Broché)
9782875741363
DOI
10.3726/978-3-0352-6400-5
Langue
Français
Date de parution
2014 (Avril)
Mots clés
Exploitation péjorative Approache innovante Représentation excessive Plan esthétique
Published
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 448 p., 51 ill.

Notes biographiques

Dominique Nasta (Éditeur de volume) Muriel Andrin (Éditeur de volume) Anne Gailly (Éditeur de volume)

Dominique Nasta is Film Studies Professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, where she chaired the Film Department from 1990 to 2010. She is the author of Meaning in Film: Relevant Structures in Soundtrack and Narrative (1991) and the co-author of New Perspectives in Sound Studies (2004). Her latest book is Contemporary Romanian Cinema: The History of an Unexpected Miracle (2013). Muriel Andrin est Présidente de filière et enseigne au sein du Master en études cinématographiques de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles. Elle est l’auteure de Maléfiques. Le Mélodrame filmique américain et ses héroïnes (2005) ainsi que co-éditrice de Femmes et critique(s) (2009) et de Pratiques de l’intime – écrire, filmer et commenter la sexualité au féminin (2012). Anne Gailly est assistante au sein du Master en études cinématographiques de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles. Sa recherche doctorale définit les caractéristiques du « mélodrame de l’Enfance » dans les productions françaises réalisées entre 1900 et 1920. Son intérêt porte également sur le mélodrame contemporain et sur les cinéastes belges de l’époque du muet.

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Titre: Le mélodrame filmique revisité / Revisiting Film Melodrama