Melodrama in Film


melodrama [Gr.,=song-drama], originally a spoken text with musical background, as in Greek drama. The form was popular in the 18th cent., when its composers included Georg Benda, J. J. Rousseau, and W. A. Mozart, among others. Modern examples of the true music melodrama are found in Richard Strauss's setting of Tennyson's Enoch Arden, and in Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. J. J. Rousseau's melodrama Pygmalion (1762; first performed 1770) helped create a vogue for stage plays in which the action was generally romantic, full of violent action, and often characterized by the final triumph of virtue. The common use of the term melodrama refers to sentimental stage plays of this sort. The leading authors of melodramas in the early 19th cent. were Guilbert de Pixérécourt of France and the German August von Kotzebue. The term was used extensively in England in the 19th cent. as a device to circumvent the law that limited legitimate plays to certain theaters. One of the most-popular of theatrical genres in 19th. cent England and America, its "tear-jerking" style easily made the transition to film, radio and television, where they are represented by the maudlin excesses and unbelievable coincidences of contemporary soap operas. The term is now applied to all scripts with overdrawn characterizations, smashing climaxes, and appeal to sentiment. Famous examples of stage melodramas include East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood and Ten Nights in a Barroom by W. W. Pratt.

See D. Gerould, ed., Melodrama (1980).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Melodrama in Film: Selected full-text books and articles

All That Hollywood Allows: Re-Reading Gender in 1950s Melodrama By Jackie Byars University of North Carolina Press, 1991
Handbook of American Film Genres By Wes D. Gehring Greenwood Press, 1988
Librarian's tip: Chap. 16 "Melodrama"
Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts By Susan Hayward Routledge, 2000 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: "Melodrama and Women's Films" begins on p. 213
Genre and Hollywood By Steve Neale Routledge, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Melodrama and the Woman's Film"
Overhearing Film Dialogue By Sarah Kozloff University of California Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. Seven "Misunderstandings: Dialogue in Melodramas"
The Oxford History of World Cinema By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: "Italy: Spectacle and Melodrama" begins on p. 123
Celluloid China: Cinematic Encounters with Culture and Society By Harry H. Kuoshu Southern Illinois University Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: Part One "History in and out of Melodrama: Glory, Guilt, and Fantasy"
The New German Cinema: Music, History, and the Matter of Style By Caryl Flinn University of California Press, 2004
Librarian's tip: Part 1 "Historical Predecessors: Melodrama and Modernism"
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