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
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The term ‘unseemly emotions’ is the code for what Williams calls the ‘excesses’ of cinema. She compares melodrama to pornography and horror cinema; by stating that here naked emotions replace the naked bodies and extreme violence in the other genres. She defines melodrama as encompassing a range of films ‘marked by “lapses” in realism, by “excesses” of spectacle and displays of primal, even infantile emotions and narrative that seem circular and repetitive’.
Both Williams and Neale define the unrealistic nature of the narrative as a fundamental element of melodrama. Neale points out that melodramatic narration relies heavily on events not being defined through a realist standpoint, but more dependent on chance encounters and coincidences. “The generic verisimilitude of melodrama tends to marked by the extent to which the succession and course of events is unmotivated (or undermotivated) from a realist point of view.” He calls this ‘an excess of effect over cause’, arguing that this phenomenon assigns power to the theory of an external force governing the story. As the all-knowing spectator, some of this power flows to us too, causing our illusion of being able to affect the situation. This makes the lack of our ability to influence the story even more poignant, resulting in our feeling of vulnerability.
According to Williams, it is the audience’s involvement with the physical display of emotion on the