Wednesday, December 7, 2011


JOHNNY CHAZZ: One primary focus in film is to cerate a sense of feeling – a deep and embedded lasting emotional reaction on the part of the audience. For a melodrama to really work, strict themes of loss, desire, love, death, betrayal and anger must present themselves in a believable and thoughtful manner on screen. The ultimate goal?: Leave your audience in a state of shock, disarray, deep reflection and enveloped in tears. Simply put – force the viewers to endure precisely what the characters on the screen are experiencing, and for them to witness a film that truly “moves” them – then and only then and there do you have a working melodrama.

The likes of Bette Davis (“Of Human Bondage”; “Jezebel”; “Now Voyager”; “All About Eve”) was probably one of the great names and actresses who appeared in so many early melodramas during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Greta Garbo and Barbara Stanwyk are also prime fits for that genre during those years. Liz Taylor would be the next in line during the 1950’s and 1960’s (“Butterfield 8”; “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”). The key is that they were all characters that were bland and dry like a martini; yet, they remained ultra-cool while being transformed as the film progressed. They were a bit on the trashy side as well as edgy, but their mood remained dark and blue, yet with a glimmer of inspiration and hope.

Sets, sound, timing and virtually all aspects of mise-en- scene (a French expression for “placing on stage”) are fundamental in the classic melodrama. Sets must reflect the inner turmoil of characters while being lit and cast in a manner that reflects the nature of the genre itself. Sound must remain symbolic, honest and literal in every sense of the word if the character(s) are to be well complemented in the film. Thus, we must dwell. We must dwell on mixed emotions, inner distress and find resilience in character that runs silent and deep (no reference of course to the film of the same name). The final product is a work of art on screen that amplifies the “emptiness” and “longing” of characters on screen. The opening to a film such as “Ikiru” (1952) combined with the camera work, mood and editing of “Far From Heaven” (2002), then adding a dash of the timing with “In the Mood for Love” (2000) and finished off with the honesty, resiliency and subtle nuances of “The Scent of Green Papaya” (1993) and the final scene in “The Conversation” (1974). These are the end products of how a director not only should, but also must utilize the melodrama in the most efficient, and ultimately, understated manner. It takes just the right touch in terms of mise-en-scene (placing on stage), lighting, mood, dialogue, timing and score can give a melodrama the proper ingredients to deeply impact an audience.
The original trailer from Akira Kurosawa's IKIRU
So, what films make my list for best melodramas of all time? In essence, I am really asking myself: “Which films do the best job of communicating elements of mood, tension, drama and climax on screen?” Let’s keep in mind that not all melodramas are what we would call “tear-jerkers”, but the dramatic elements of the film weigh quite heavy on our hearts and in our minds. The ideal melodrama must use the proper tools to completely transcend all other genres in order to generate a real, a lasting and a genuine emotional response from the viewing audience. Thus, let’s keep both ideas in mind this week. Here is my list in chronological order:

Sunrise (1927)
Of Human Bondage (1934)
Love Affair (1939)
Gone With the Wind (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Now, Voyager (1942)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
CHAINS (1949)
All About Eve (1950)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Death of a Salesman (1951 & TV Version of 1966 and1985)
Ikiru (1952)
On The Waterfront (1954)
East of Eden (1955)
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
The White Angel (1955)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Death of a Cyclist (1955)
Le Notti Bianche (1957)
An Affair to Remember (1957)
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960)
Butterfield 8 (1960)
Lola (1962)
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Marnie (1964)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
The Sandpiper (1965)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
The Graduate (1967)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Rocky (1976)
Taxi Driver (1976)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Ordinary People (1980)
Paris, Texas (1984)
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
The Color Purple (1985)
Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
Beaches (1988)
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Schindler’s List (1993)

Philadelphia (1993)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Fargo (1996)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
In the Company of Men (1997)
The Ice Storm (1997)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Far From Heaven (2002)
The Pianist (2002)
Talk To Her (Habla con Ella) (2002)
Lost in Translation (2003)
The Sea Inside (2004)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
The Lives of Others (2007)
An Education (2009)
Winter’s Bone (2010)
The Artist (2011) ???? To be determined.

JER: What a great topic to come back from November’s holiday break with… very powerful and profound. This seems to be the subject that began building up about a couple of blogs back. The conversations were becoming stronger and opinions of cinema were becoming very insistent with personal perspectives. I don’t pretend to be that heavy and that deep on the subject and your views stem from two different aspects; one: being your love for classic story development and film and two: being your education from attending film school. My voice and dialog was picked up from the streets with no formal schooling. I learned as I went along and deemed what I felt were good movies to glorious works of film!

Your coverage of the earlier screen icons (Davis, Garbo and Stanwyk) will give me the opportunity to talk about more contemporary actors and films. The tempos of film changed drastically between decades. The culture, political standpoints and pop- standards go in and out quickly and both music and movies can be outdated quickly if not produced correctly and with a sense of timing.

Johnny Chazz left his portion of discussion off at around the 1960’s, so let me pick up with the dawn of the 1970’s. This would be the decade that might have introduced an alternative take: the storytelling became grittier with more firepower coming from both the written screenplay and the scenarios they developed based on drama, misery, action or high- tension depictions.
The 1976 trailer for Brian DePalma's OBSESSION
A new wave of film makers were graduating out of film school and most of their hands- on training came from self- made documentaries and home movies. At around the same time, many others were coming from theater backgrounds and bringing more dynamics and a flare for the drama. Some stage writers were also trying their hand at more realistic dialog and developing characters that an audience could relate with. Most of the work was also based on the culture of what the world was surrounding itself with: the age of the Vietnam War, the Cold War and economic and social growth (good or bad, depending on who you spoke with). Hollywood took a chance and needed to speak to those who were forming protest lines to voice their minds and find a way to appeal to them. The years would pass into decades to come and the role of a “screen idol” had drastically changed.

A new breed of talent was arising and bringing a new form of acting techniques and style. Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Jessica Lange, Sally Fields, Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close are amongst just a few names of a new generation of talented unknowns that would soon rise to top in both their performance and artistic caliber. I will be the first to admit that their films would portray a different recognition for acting and cinema that could never be compared to the “Golden Age of Hollywood” … but a talent, nonetheless, worthy of mention.

As to not repeat any titles, I agree with some of the films selected by Johnny Chazz, but I wanted to bring forth a list of other titles, more contemporary, but still worthy of the topic at hand. If there was a list of recommendations that I would hand deliver, this would be it. Review carefully: how many of these films have you already seen, been far too long since last seen or never viewed at all? Look, find, buy or rent them and make the call yourself. Here it is:

THE OMEN (1976)
DAS BOOT (1981)
BLOW OUT (1981) 
FRANCES (1982)
AMADEUS (1984)
RAN (1985)
PLATOON (1986)
TRAFFIC (2000)
21 GRAMS (2003)
CACHE (2005)
CRASH (2005)
MUNICH (2005)
UNITED 93 (2006)
ALPHA DOG (2007)
DOUBT (2008)

JOHNNY CHAZZ: There is no doubt that the films beginning in the 1970's - although still an honest and literal era, became "grittier" as you state here, Jer. The subject material (One looks at "Easy Rider", "The Exorcist" "The Deer Hunter", "One Flew Over..." or perhaps "Apocalypse Now" or "Taxi Driver" and that ‘new flare’ had definitely been brought to the genre.

Christopher Walken: THE DEER HUNTER
How intriguing, Jer, that you mentioned that these films and new breed of actors (male and female alike of course) could “never be compared to the "Golden Age of Hollywood” but that their talent remains worthy of mention. Well, that is an understatement in my mind. As much as I appreciate classic cinema, the films of the 1970’s may very well have been the compilation and the climax of what audiences have experienced in melodramas considering precisely the ingredient your referred to prior: The subject material was so gritty and daring that characters with inner turmoil now had to deal with a world and other characters posing threats to their inner being. We can never sell short what we have seen in this genre post-1960, and in some ways we are seeing better and more impacting melodramas as time marches on.

 I am sure that I took some titles away from you in my list which is not to say that you agree with most of them, but I would imagine that you are on-board with me on a large portion of those selections. Looking at your list for a moment – and the list is good (no pun intended again): “The Godfather”, “Barry Lyndon”, “Interiors”, “The Elephant Man”, “Silkwood”, “The Accidental Tourist”, “Amadeus” (nice choice here), “Traffic” and “21 Grams” (how did I forget those….perhaps I felt they fell into the suspense and thriller genre, but fair enough), “Before Sunset” (refer to earlier blogs and Jer really seemed to have a love affair with this one and I was so pleased), “Cache” and “Crash” are simply amazing, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (a melodrama and fantasy film weaved into one), “United 93” (terrific performances throughout, but was it a true melodrama? Perhaps…..enjoyed it immensely though), “August Rush” (never saw it….ahem, but will log-onto Netflix immediately), “Doubt” (I know your love for this film – and it definitely falls into this realm), and both “Seven Pounds” and “The Wrestler” were very impacting films.
The intense and tragic trailer for Woody Allen's INTERIORS
This list of yours is outstanding and I think the combination of both selections from us, at the very least, creates a compilation for our Cinema: Counterpoint readers to scan over and decide which films they would to like to re-visit or perhaps to view for the first time. The goal this week? Let’s fall in love with the Melodrama all over again and never forget the place and value of this genre in film history, as well as in the future of what studios aim to release. 

This closes out this segment and as always we will see you here on Cinema: Counterpoint with another motif and distinct discussion topic this time from Jer. SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY and happy film-going!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!


  1. Melodramas are sometimes thebest kind of movies to go to and I always get the most reaction out of them. The list you guys made here is really good and there are some movies that I want to add to my own list. Questions - Chazz: Is Wild Stawberries one of Ingmars best films? just curious. Jer: Did you think August Rush or Gone Baby Gone were the better movie in 2007? I will wait for yourresponses. David @ Charleston, SC

  2. Hi David and thanks for writing to us...
    A text message from JC answers his part by saying, "WILD STRAWBERRIES would be Ingmar Bergman's most heartfelt and honest filmworking as a highly effective melodrama, but I would label PERSONA or SEVENTH SEAL as his best works in terms of theme, style and directing."

    My (Jer's) reply to your question is that I believe GONE BABY GONE to be one of the best films of 2007 and it should have been nominated for Best Film.

    Thanks again David!

  3. Hi everyone. This is my first posting on the blog but I have read it a few times. I am a film student in Colorado and am a huge fan of dramas and melodramas in film. I think that some of the modern stuff we see today tries real hard to be like the old, classic melodramas, but they old movies just had such a strong sense of mood and pacing that made them work on a high level. thanks, A.J. - GRAND JUNCTION, CO.

  4. Hi AJ and thanks for writing us! Continued success in your schooling... we hope to write about you some day!!!
    It is true that no era will ever capture or compare to that of the eralier classic films with good reason. Formal training for many came from working through or inspired by the silent film era. Acting had to be expressed by facial and body language without a word spoken.
    Think how much better actors of today could be if they took a page of their idols.... if only they would.
    Thanks again!

  5. I think your blog is pretty cool, and enjoying a lot of your movie discusssions. I notice some of the movies on your lists and wanted to make my own comments. Mr. Chazz suggested and I prefer Now Voyager (always makes me cry), To kill and mokingbird, Beaches and The Pianist and all of these are good drameas and teary-eyed movies. MR. Jer said that Amadeus and Munich are good movies and I also agree since these always make me cry. Oh, and just to let you guys in on a little secret, most girls really like Before Sunset since it was so romantic and sad.I guess this was the topic this week, so I wanted to give my feedback -Kellie from Santa Ynez California :-)

  6. Hi Kelli- thank you so much for your insights and for informing us of your favorites. Yes, the topic of 'melodramas' are very emotional films and they dray a variety of different responses from different people. Bot myself (Jer) and JC have various thoughts as to what moves us to our reactions but you can see that our tastes can both be simular and different at the same time! :)