Following is the course description and screening list for American Melodrama, a course I'll be teaching in Fall 2000 in the Art History Department of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Because the course is offered in cooperation with the Gene Siskel Film Center each program is open to the public for the normal admission of $7.00 In general each program will begin with a brief introduction to the film being shown, followed by the film, followed by a brief break, followed by a lecture/discussion. Where there is more than one film being shown, each film will be treated separately. Each program will begin at 6:00 PM and end at 9:00 PM; screenings are at the School of the Art Institute at 280 S. Columbus Drive, in the Film Center's auditorium.
All films will be shown in their original format except where noted by "16mm." Thus most of the Hollywood films will be shown in 35mm. The two films by Douglas Sirk are being shown in archival 35mm original Technicolor IB release prints; I have seen these prints and they are spectacular. It's now generally agreed that these are the best prints of these films that survive.
This series concentrates on the Hollywood melodrama,
both as a genre and with a focus on the unique styles and themes of key
directors such as Douglas Sirk, Vincente Minnelli, Frank Borzage, Max Ophuls,
and George Cukor. The direct appeal to emotion rather than plot mechanics
is what marked these films as "women's pictures," not to be taken as seriously
as others with "bigger" themes, but in the hands of visionary directors
they become human dramas writ large, with the key theme being a collision
between character aspirations and social context, individual and the world.
Whether the milieu is Nazism in THE MORTAL STORM, small-town America in
SOME CAME RUNNING, or the opulent life of a Texas oil family in WRITTEN
ON THE WIND, composition and camera movement can suggest the ways in which
society opposes personal freedom — with very different outcomes in the
work of different directors. The lectures will focus on the films' use
of decor, the placement of characters in settings, and the relationship
between visual style and the narrative. Several avant-garde films are included,
both for their own merit and as examples that fall completely outside the
genre; the way these filmmakers develop similar themes using very different
film grammar should help illuminate and make more specific the Hollywood
films shown. — Fred Camper
Tuesday, September 5
1927, F.W. Murnau, 95 min.
THE DRUNKARD'S REFORMATION
1909, D.W. Griffith, 12 min. (16mm)
Tuesday, September 12
1933, Frank Borzage, 75 min.
Tuesday, September 19
1937, King Vidor, 106 min. (16mm)
Tuesday, September 26
THE MORTAL STORM
1940, Frank Borzage, 100 min. (16mm)
Tuesday, October 3
1939, George Cukor, 132 min.
Tuesday, October 10
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN
1948, Max Ophuls, 90 min. (16mm)
Tuesday, October 17
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
1955, Nicholas Ray, 111 min.
Tuesday, October 24
BIGGER THAN LIFE
1956, Nicholas Ray, 95 min.
Tuesday, October 31
SOME CAME RUNNING
1959, Vincente Minnelli, 136 min.
Tuesday, November 7
ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS
1955, Douglas Sirk, 89 min.
Tuesday, November 14
WRITTEN ON THE WIND
1957, Douglas Sirk, 99 min.
Tuesday, November 21
1988, Robert Mulligan, 108 min.
Tuesday, December 5
FILM ABOUT A WOMAN WHO...
1974, Yvonne Rainer, 105 min.
Tuesday, December 12
SINK OR SWIM
1990, Su Friedrich, 48 min.
1953, Christopher Maclaine, 35 min.