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.
The Melodramatic Moment as Allegory in Griffith’s Biograph Films (Tom Paulus)
← 110 | 111 → The Melodramatic Moment as Allegory in Griffith’s Biograph Films
University of Antwerp
In the new preface to his seminal The Melodramatic Imagination, Peter Brooks briefly discusses the afterlife of some of the arguments in his book in the field of film studies.1 Although he sees melodrama becoming a key concept in the critical discussion of Hollywood films of the 1940s and the 1950s in particular, Brooks points out that perhaps the most evident continuity, both at the historical and theoretical level, between his discussion of nineteenth-century stage melodrama and the studies of film melodrama lies in early silent cinema. Almost inevitably and of necessity, he proposes, silent film looked to stage melodrama for its expressive effects, since the latter was born out of a wordless form, pantomime, and the former could not help but be pantomimic. Brooks mentions David Wark Griffith as a ‘telling example’ of this silent film aesthetic, and reserves most of the rest of the new preface to a discussion of Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (released December, 1921). Of course, and this despite undeniable moments in the film that illustrate what Brooks terms “an aesthetic of hysteria”, by 1921 the strong reliance on the conventional broad gestures of melodramatic acting in Griffith’s early Biograph films had given way to what Roberta Pearson describes as a more muted ‘verisimilar’ approach.2 As Tom Gunning makes clear in his own study of Griffith’s early years, the discovery of other...
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