I have to admit, I hold a soft spot for a great melodrama in my heart. Movies like Magnificent Obsession, Rebel Without a Cause, and Imitation of Life have always given me great insight into the human condition, and are enough of a reason to let out a good cry.
But melodramas are tricky. It's easy to pick out the best ones, but over time, the word "melodramatic" sort of began to give off a peculiar patina. It was a way to describe movies and TV shows in a negative way. Melodramas were criticized for a lack of subtlety and fell by the wayside. They were written off as we got deeper into cinema and began to favor stories that were more grounded and closer to reality. Big emotions and stage acting gave way to method performances and more naturalistic dialogue.
The melodramas of the past were virtually lost amidst the chaos of other budding genres and audience favor... until James Cameron's Titanic not only brought melodrama back into relevancy but took it to the top of the box office and swept awards season as well.
Check out this video from Nerdwriter1, and let's talk after the jump.
How Did Titanic Make Melodrama Relevant Again?
When Titanic hit theaters, it was not afraid to be bold in any fashion. The movie was a big-budget event, was directed by James Cameron, and delivered a passionate love story amidst an insane tragedy.
Like the melodramas of old, it focused on elevated emotions at the heart of the story. There's a woman who wants to commit suicide rather than being married to a man she does not love, her greedy mother, a vindictive social-climbing investor, a wizened yet handsome street rat, and that's all just in the flashbacks. In the present, we have an elderly woman weaving a yarn, and a precocious sea captain buying into every facet of the story.
There are other prominent beats, like a love you know can never work, tragic death, lots of screaming, and a chaste yet still hot sex scene.
Titanic brought melodrama back to the forefront of society, and I actually don't think it went away from there. The generation raised on Titanic took the subgenre into books. Look at YA works like The Fault in Our Stars. That's probably one of the most successful melodramas of all time, and the movie adaptation did equally well.
We saw it transport into horror too, with Twilight being the forbidden love melodrama with vampires.
And it wasn't just kids' stuff. I think Paul Thomas Anderson worked within the genre for the first few movies of his career, with Boogie Nights being a melodrama centered on pornography and Magnolia being a sweeping melodrama that would have made Douglas Sirk proud.
Brokeback Mountain and Far From Heaven are two modern melodramas that scored at the Academy Awards as well.
While the word "melodramatic" still carries a little shade, I think audiences are allowing themselves more room to really feel with the characters again. While I am not sure a straightforward Sirkian melodrama would fare quite as well today, I think adding elements and tropes to other genres allow directors and writers room to play with the storytelling techniques.
And I think a lot of that has to do with Titanic allowing us to love and feel again.
Let me know what you think in the comments.