Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Melodrama & Modernity

ENGL 797.401
crosslisted as: SAST651, CINE793, COML653
instructor(s):
R 6-8
WILLIAMS205

Film history and cultural criticism once approached melodrama as a failed and lowbrow form of tragedy characterized by excessive rhetoric, one-dimensional characterizations, and schematized moral polarizations.  Scholarship of the last few decades, however, exhibits a newfound interest in the genre or mode, particularly within psychoanalytic, Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial frameworks.  This course surveys the body of that scholarship with a focus on these last two. If as Peter Brooks argues, melodrama is a mode for the modern age, how does a sense of the postcolonial modern come to be visualized and articulated in cinema through melodrama?  In this course, we will focus on temporality and change, two markers of modernity, to consider how melodrama, particularly in the South Asian context, alternatively centers on and addresses women by emphasizing the body as a key node or site of signification.  How does the melodramatic focus on the body and excess allow us to reconsider and perhaps productively put into crisis concepts that have served to fix femininity such as stardom, fantasy, the male gaze, and the female voice? We will contextualize our discussion within the larger history of the representation of women in melodramatic film by considering Hollywood racial melodramas and film from other postcolonial and national cinemas.