Historical Impact Of Melodrama: Film Research Paper

Length: 6 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Film Type: Research Paper Paper: #62307682 Related Topics: Movie Industry, Sound Effects, Movie, Film
Excerpt from Research Paper :

Film: The Historical Impact of Melodrama

In the first half of the 19th century, classical cinema was the norm in the American film industry, and filmmakers had become accustomed to uniform styles for creating visuals and sounds used in making motion pictures. Due to the dominance of this distinctive cinematic style, viewers had come to anticipate certain stylistic choices for certain narratives. However, by the second half of the century, melodrama had become the most popular kind of theatrical entertainment, and according to Williams, it successfully tested the boundaries set by the classical Hollywood style (353). By definition, melodrama is a genre in film designed to appeal to the emotions of the audience. The style derives its name from the music it uses to create tension, accompany action, and generate mood; and it is characterized by moral polarization, pathos, heightened emotions and extravagant theatricality. Its popularity in the 19th century was attributed to the omnipresence of active villainy, where the villain would trigger a series of events that would pose a threat to the safety, livelihood or reputation of a hero or a heroine. Each melodrama would typically end with the defeat of the villain and the triumph of good over evil.

Apart from playing an important role in public recognition of pathos, some filmmakers manipulated melodrama to introduce elements of modernity in cinema (Mercer and Shingler, 79). They used it to test boundaries, to eliminate stereotypes, and to reexamine the theories of contemporary film - alongside the prevalent changes in social experiences. The success of their films proved that melodrama was a significant catalyst in the formation of modernity. Thus, melodrama marked the end of classical cinema and its modes of production; and marked the beginning of a more defined and modern cinema. This text analyses the works of two of the most successful films in history: James Cameron's 'Titanic' and Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho'. It identifies some of the changes these melodramas made in the American film industry.

Emotion and graphic violence

Melodrama had always been associated with heroic tales of the battle between good and evil. However, the film 'Psycho' by Alfred Hitchcock was the game changing masterpiece of horror (Williams, 355). In fact, the film's famous shower scene still ranks among the most violent scenes ever shot in an American film. The scene, which shows a violent attack in a shower, came as a great shock to the audience, who were left clutching themselves involuntarily, covering their eyes and ears, and recoiling in fear. With unmatched prowess, Hitchcock is able to capture the attention of his audience during the first half hour, where they build engagement with the films lead female character; then, in an unexpected twist, she is hacked to death, with chilling audio effects in the background accompanied by graphic pictures of blood flowing down the shower drain. The camera work expertly captures the darkness of the drain accompanied by a clockwise spiral of the water, then goes ahead to include a reverse pull back out of the dead eye of the actress, evidence of the spectatorial disorientation that made the film unique (Williams, 355). Furthermore, Hitchcock later explained that it was convenient for the film to be shot in black and white as it would have been too grotesque in color and it would have been rejected by censors at the time. Thus, the film tested the boundaries of melodrama, and successfully so. It represented the shift in the levels of violence in cinema by introducing screen violence, which was emulated by other film makers.

The ability of melodrama to appeal to different varieties of audience was also evidenced by James Cameron's 'Titanic' in 1997 (Maslin). Produced three decades after Psycho, Titanic aimed to relive the experience of the sinking of the real titanic in1912; and it was able to bring a new perspective to love, life and death. One key to the film's impact was Cameron's ability to incorporate...


The film starts off with footage from the bottom of the Atlantic, where the audience looks at a ship that sank in real life and they are made to feel like intruders in an unknown world. It is the solemn nature of these scenes that build their suspense and makes the entire film authentic. Just before the end of the film, the audience is awed as the only part of the ship that remains afloat is raised up in the air and remains perpendicular in water. At this moment, the lead actor, Jack Dawson, together with the few surviving passengers is hanging on the rail and in a mix of excitement and Fear, he exclaims "This is it" and leaves the audience at the edge of their seats, as they anticipate the next move (Maslin). The film also set a precedent particularly because, unlike other films of it time, it was able to appeal to multiple emotions at once by incorporating the use of humor, the power of love, the importance of family as well as the fear of death.

The use of technology

Before 1960, classical cinema had relied greatly on the principle of continuity editing, where the sound recording and the camera could not call attention to themselves (Mercer and Shingler, 79). The success of the film would depend on its ability to tell a unique and captivating narrative. However, films like Psycho showed the importance of visual sensations and special effects to create a better experience for the audience. Over the years, melodrama embraced the use of technology in filmmaking in ways that had not been explored before. For instance the high tech visual and sound effects used in the titanic cost the producers approximately $300 million. The ship was made of both large and small models, but the use of computer animation and visual effects convinced the audience that they were looking at a real ship. Moreover, Cameron, himself the ultimate technocrat, was also the owner of the company that created the digital effects for the film. Thus, more effective uses of technology became apparent in creating heightened sensibility that is grounded in the anticipation of the next gut spilling moment.

New ideologies

Before Psycho, the idea of horror was that of fantasies where brave men would fight beasts or act in a manner that would make them seem like monsters (Hadley, 7). The beasts and monsters would be portrayed in various forms and shapes; for example, while some were big, others were minute and others would come from out of space or from a foreign land. More specifically, horror was only associated with creatures that were out of this planet. Psycho, however, revolutionalized the film industry. Hitchcock was able to create the illusion of a monster in a normal individual. His plot revolved around the theme of normal people as the real monsters in the society. Williams states that the film marked the turning point of the genre, where horror moved from collective fears about monsters in an alternate world to a psychosis close to the home and potential in every individual (359). By making the claim that the real monsters lived directly inside the people, the move by Hitchcock to kill off his heroine was meant to pass a message to a world that had seen the real horrors, such as the holocaust and World War 1. It made it clear that people did not need to create any more monsters; rather they had to fight those living among them.

The film saw future filmmakers base their films on topical ideas that would send a message to the audience. Titanic, for instance, was able to provide a twist to the story and at the same time recount the horrors of the sinking of the real titanic. Before the movie began, the audience knew that certain things were bound to happen. The Titanic had to sink, but there had to be a more human story involving some of the passengers. The gap between the rich and the poor was well addressed, as well as the courage and dignity of the people on the ship, the innocence and sincerity of young love, and the shared fear of death (Maslin). Cameron ensured that it took two and a half hours for the ship to sink in order to emphasize the fact that all the passengers in the ship knew what was happening and to make the audience anticipate what they would do next. Following the examples set by these melodramas, other filmmakers have also made an effort to tell relevant stories in their films in addition to entertaining their audience.

Hitchcock was also the first to introduce the concept of time schedules and queuing in movie theatres in order to allow the audience to experience every emotion brought forth by a film; a policy that is used to date.

Gender sensitivity

Melodrama was responsible for some of the changes in theories of contemporary film that went hand in hand with the changes in…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works cited

Hadley, Elaine. Melodramatic Tactics: Theatricalized Dissent in the English Marketplace 1800-1885. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 1995. Print

Maslin, Janet. "Titanic (1997)Film Review; A Spectacle As Sweeping As the Sea." The New York Times. 1997. Web. 9 May 2015 < http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B0DE7DB113FF93AA25751C1A961958260>

Mercer, John, and Shingler, Martin. Melodrama:Genre, Style, Sensibility. London: Wallflower Press. 2004. Print

Williams, Linda. "Discipline and Fun: Psycho and Post Modern Cinema," 2004. Web. 9 May 2015 < http://academic.uprm.edu/mleonard/theorydocs/readings/Williams-Psycho.pdf>

Cite this Document:

"Historical Impact Of Melodrama Film" (2015, May 11) Retrieved January 22, 2022, from

"Historical Impact Of Melodrama Film" 11 May 2015. Web.22 January. 2022. <

"Historical Impact Of Melodrama Film", 11 May 2015, Accessed.22 January. 2022,

Related Documents
Scorsese's Journey Through Film Scorsese's
Words: 1314 Length: 3 Pages Topic: Film Paper #: 10915731

Scorsese equates him with "a magician enchanted by his own magic." This freedom allowed Welles to create from narrative techniques and filmic devices a masterpiece that is self-aware of its own form. It intends to communicate this self-consciousness to the audience, thus contradicting the classical canons of filmmaking whereby the camera ought not to be noticed and the shots should be seamless. In other words, Welles expanded the art

History of Film
Words: 2904 Length: 8 Pages Topic: Military Paper #: 73046306

Representations of War in the Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan Hollywood's depictions and interpretations of the events that transpired on D-Day have long captured the attention of audiences worldwide. Though Hollywood depictions of the events that occurred prior, during, and after the invasion of Normandy may vary, they still aim to convey a similar message, one that assures the evil forces in the world will be overthrown and the

Hollywood Truly Global Hollywood Represents
Words: 2011 Length: 7 Pages Topic: Film Paper #: 75742871

Bollywood has many recognizable elements of style; "The distinctive features of popular Hindi cinema -- song and dance, melodrama, lavish production values, emphasis upon stars and spectacle -- are common to films made in Southern industries as well," (Ganti 2004 p 3). There are many differences that create a discrepancy between the traditional Hollywood style and that seen in Hindi films. Bollywood films tend to add more emotion to

American Heroes
Words: 632 Length: 2 Pages Topic: Sports - Women Paper #: 66624082

Joan Crawford's life appeared to mirror the characters that she portrayed on film in several ways. By analyzing the 1945 film Mildred Pierce, in which Crawford plays the titular character, one can see how Mildred's character is designed to reflect American perspectives of women. For example, in the film and in real life, Crawford was able to reinvent herself and become more successful as time went on. However, despite her successes,

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Fiction As a
Words: 6311 Length: 22 Pages Topic: Plays Paper #: 28560425

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Fiction as a Catalyst for Fact The Origins of a Living Document Stage Night North and South Polarized: Critics Respond The Abolitionist Debates The Tom Caricature The Greatest Impact The Origins of a Living Document In her own words, Harriet Beecher Stowe was compelled to pen Uncle Tom's Cabin "....because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt

Music and Dance in Indian Films in
Words: 2575 Length: 8 Pages Topic: History - Asian Paper #: 30617024

Music and Dance in Indian Films In sheer quantity, INDIA produces more movies than any other country in the world-over 900 feature-length films in at least 16 languages, according to a recent industry survey. This productivity is explained by several factors: the size of the Indian audience, low literacy rates, the limited diffusion of television in India, and well-developed export markets in both hemispheres. (http://worldfilm.about.com/cs/booksbolly/) In its historical development, India's film industry