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Melodrama By García-Mainar, Luis Miguel

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM331-1
Published: 09/05/2016
Retrieved: 23 May 2024, from


With its origins in the novel and the theater, melodrama appeared in late 18th-century Europe and reached maturity at the turn of the 20th century. In the United States, the incipient film industry adopted it as a vehicle for suspense and action stories aimed at a mass audience. Melodrama featured a Manichaean world in which unquestionably virtuous protagonists had to endure suffering and defend themselves from the advance of evil, in the form of utterly villanous antagonists. Belonging to the same family as the biblical parable, it offered testimonies of moral struggle that have pervaded most commercial cinema across the world—in France, Italy, Mexico, the Middle East, and the various Indian industries—yet is best known through its Hollywood incarnation. Hollywood combined the melodrama with various types of action films but also developed a distinct version revolving around domestic conflict and sentimental plots. During the 1970s film criticism associated the term with films centerd on women and family life, frequently containing a more or less open critique of dominant gender relations. Excessive in form and emotions and subtly critical of social mores, it combined popular appeal and modernist stylization, and attracted auteurs striving for cultural respectability and commercial success.

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Citing this article:

Miguel García-Mainar, Luis. Melodrama. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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