Melodrama as a Genre

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In his essay ‘Melodrama and Tears’, Steve Neale proposes the melodrama as a genre emerged to occupy the space between tragedy and comedy. Neale quotes Denis Diderot and identifies melodrama as a primarily ‘touching’ art form, which has the ability to move audiences and induce physical reactions like crying. Neale discusses Diderot’s quote ‘the pleasure of being touched and giving way to tears’ as an important part of the melodramatic mode. Neale continues to illustrate in his essay how the tricks used in showing point of view and timing perform an essential role in achieving maximum pathos in melodrama. Neale argues that the melodramas rely on the discrepancies between the knowledge that the spectator has and knowledge that the character has, to achieve maximum dramatic potential. This is also a way for the spectators to be more involved with the story, as they are now in a position of power. They hold the code that could possibly unlock the mystery and cause events to happen. The spectator’s awareness of this power and the resulting helplessness they feel with their actual inability to influence the events unfolding on screen is what drives the pathos. A fairly neutral scene in Awaara(1951), of the Judge meeting a stranger at a birthday party is heightened by our knowledge that the characters share a father-son bond, unknown to either of them. Neale also points out the optical point of view method of using eye line match to establish character’s emotions. The Best Years of Our Lives(1946), uses this to let the audience know that Fred and Peggy still have feelings for each other. As Homer and Wilma stand at the altar and get married, we see Fred and Peggy gazing at each other and hearing the words of commitment spoken by the priest. They maintain their gaze without breaking, till they finally embrace and profess their love to each other.

Linda Williams’ also acknowledges the feeling of helplessness, by giving us an example of her seven year old son’s...
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