Silent Melodrama Background for Redskin and Other Films
Melodrama • Works primarily on a nonverbal and emotional level, a “common base of feeling that crosses over all linguistic barriers” (Belton 127). • Primarily concerned with establishing mood or emotion
Two Senses of the Word • As a genre, melodrama has specific kinds of characters, plots, and so on. • Melodrama is a “modal” genre: a “melodramatic” style is a means of heightened emotional expression that crosses into genres such as comedies and westerns.
Melodrama, continued • Tries to make visible and bring to the surface (through images and music) that which is invisible or felt but not recognized • Often relies on stylistic excess (color, set, costume design, methods of filming)
Melodrama, continued • Is about the family, connections among individuals, and “the loss and recovery of feelings” (130) • Children and animals are often touchstones, since they perceive feelings and are less constrained about expressing them.
Tragedy Subject matter is the aristocracy The restoration of order, not the questioning of that order, is a primary goal The protagonist is identified with the state and the public sphere. Melodrama Subject matter is middle or lower class Questioning of the social order and even rooting for the underdog is the norm. The protagonist is identified with the private sphere of home and community. Classical Tragedy and Melodrama
Static relationship between individual and social order Virtue and wisdom the property of the aristocracy Dynamic relationship between individual and social order; individuals can prosper, move up (or down) in class, etc. Virtue and wisdom are attainable by anyone Tragedy and Melodrama, continued
Classical tragedy relies on inevitability; all is determined and nothing is contingent or variable. Melodrama lacks a sense of inevitability; all events are contingent and not inevitable or predetermined Its politics are often reformist, populist, and even revolutionary. Tragedy and Melodrama, continued
Spatialized Representation of Values in Melodrama • City: associated with modernity, anonymity, isolation, technology, industrialism, corruption • Country: associated with innocence, nature, abundance, preindustrialism, family—the “Garden of Eden” or a place of respite from modernity.
Since melodrama often centers on home, a common plot is the threat to the home or family (Fatal Attraction)
Temporalized Representation of Values • The past: site of values and a place of order before the disruptions of modernity • The present: fragmented, chaotic, corrupt; the values of the past are often invoked to restore order.
Films for Today • White Fawn’s Devotion, dir. James Young Deer (1910) • Ramona, dir. D. W. Griffith (1910) • Scenes from The Vanishing American, dir. George B. Seitz (1925)