CFP: Revisiting Film Melodrama

Interdisciplinary and Transnational Aspects, Stylistic Issues, and Contemporary Extensions

27-30 November 2008
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Belgian Film Archive

Languages: Bilingual in French and English

Though addressed in Anglo-Saxon studies since the 1970s with diversified approaches ranging from auteurist perspectives, readings as a feminist sub-genre to diachronic studies, francophone research on the melodrama genre has been very fragmentary and predominantly thematic. The study of melodrama’s stylistic construction has not been taken up, several isolated initiatives notwithstanding. This situation to some extent reflects preconceived notions of the genre, but also the absence of a coherent definition.

Misunderstood, minimalized and dismissed since its cinema débuts, the term became pejoratively applied to a “melodramatic mode” that limited the genre to those films that manipulated the emotions of the public. There also is a problem with the multiple and sometimes contradictory usages of the word, resulting in a veritable semantic gulf. The first sense of the term connects elaborate spectacle and feeling, confrontations with moral issues and rhetorical figures of excess; later usage highlights the psychology of sacrifice and pathos. Confusion also stems from the fact that the term might refer both to the effects produced on the spectators and the means by which the effects are produced. While the sources of Classic Theatrical Melodrama are delimited and defined, those of film melodrama, by contrast, are diverse. Theoreticians attribute the origins variously to Greek tragedy, the sentimental bourgeois novel, Italian opera or Victorian theatrical melodrama.

Approaches to melodrama in current publishing, conferences and festivals are almost exclusively based on monographic studies and retrospectives. These privileged approaches are not conducive to developing new lines of research. Furthermore, when film melodrama itself is addressed, it is envisioned within very narrow limits, notably those set by emblematic directors in the genre. The goal of this international conference is to open the field to new historical perspectives, to revisit the most viable ones, and to calibrate those lines of theory with theories of cognition and emotion, philosophical investigations of suffering and pathos, the mythic dimensions of the genre, etc.

These new research lines should be conceived as systematically redefining the topoï of the genre, with special consideration of interdisciplinary dimensions in order to avoid clichés and stereotypes. While studies and research often have focused on literary and theatrical theories, those from opera, music, painting and other art forms have been neglected, despite their pertinence. Moreover, to move beyond the historical, that is, passéist, dimension, it will be necessary to relate melodrama to contemporary issues of the genre—television, dance, installations, multimedia work, etc.

Presentations will be 30 minutes long, including film clips, slides or other AV support. Proposals must be submitted before 1 May 2008 and will include a working title, an abstract of about 250 words, the writer’s title and institutional affiliation (with address, e-mail and telephone number), and a brief curriculum vitae (about 100 words). Proposals and questions should be submitted to

Full call for papers and conference information available at the conference website.

NOTE: Deadline extended to May 30.


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