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Melodrama: Cinema of Douglas Sirk

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Good Morning. So, we will continue with our reading of Melodrama and Classic Hollywood.As we were talking about at the other day on Melodrama is a highly popular genre.Anywhere in the world and we were talking about Classic Hollywood, and it is one of the major genresin Classic Hollywood. Generally used in a very derisive, very pejorative way and bya means to; which was generally understood as something, a kind of drama that manipulatedthe audience’s emotions. We were also talking about the Indian Melodrama, we were referringto films like even our own Sholay, Mother India and Deewaar and the more recent filmslike Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. So, they all fall in the category of Melodrama.Generally in the film industry the term is used to denote dramas involving; passion,we have Crime Melodramas; we have Psychological Melodramas, Family Melodramas things whichwe are extremely familiar with, women’s Films and Romantic Dramas.Think or consider a classic love triangle; even Devadas is a Classic Romantic Melodrama.Now Melodrama attained a certain status with the interest in the works of people like, Nicholas Ray,and I am going to question you, who got interested in these people? You are already familiarwith Nicholas Ray; ‘Rebel without a cause’, you are no stranger to these names anymore.Vincent Minnelli, Max Ophuls, have we done anything by Max Ophuls?Student: Lola Montes.Lola Montes, we were talking about, ‘Earrings of Madame De’.And Otto Preminger; I refer to a movie called ‘Lora’, a Film Noir.Douglas Sirk; now Douglas Sirk has been understood as a Key Maker of Melodrama in Hollywood,and who were the people who got interested in Melodrama?All these people who are nowconsidered Auteurs today and their images have been built up or hyped up by Cahier du Cinema Critics.So, today these filmmakers are refer to with great respect, even theMelodrama is referring to with great respect by films scholars, because the kind of interestthat Cahier du cinema critic showed in their works. Molly Haskell, of course some of youare familiar with the works of Molly Haskell, right Vimal; you have heard of her, in 1979drew attention to women’s films with Family Melodrama and raised question about the aestheticand cultural significance of this kind of cinema.Now what did she mean? She said that we should not be this dismissive about Melodrama. Generally,we think Melodrama is a Tearjerker, some genre which is use to an exploit emotion, you know,the more tears the audience sheds, the more tickets it will sell that is the idea.Molly Haskell said that in spite of this tendency in Melodrama, the thing is that; these familymelodramas, Romantic Melodramas, raise certain questions about cultural period of a particulartime in American history, this was the way women were treated in American history at a particular point.Perhaps you would like to drawn from your own understanding of Indian Melodrama.The other we were talking about Deewaar and Mother India, do you think itraises certain questions about, how women were treated in a particular period?Do you agree with me?Elaborate, can you?Student: We remember expected to make sacrifices for their family, did not have much freedomto work outside their homes or something. Good. So, Deewaar and Mother India both reflect this;that women are supposed to be in certain way, so that raises certain questions aboutthe status of the women. Therefore the importance of Family Melodrama, when women’s pictures.They should not be just dismissed off as yet another weeping movie or weepy.They have something to tell us about our own social cultural practices that is what Molly Haskell dislikes.Could anyone else like to comment on that, Shwetha, Karthik?Student: I think it will highlight sort of role that woman have to play. I think in Deewar,the Idea of mother implies that, the way the character relates to the mother, the way motherrelates to son; that also tells us something about,..Well, mother is nation you see; in both, this is very important to understand,both in Mother India and in Deewaar mother is a metaphor for the nation.There are two warring brothers in both Deewaar and Mother India.And who are those two warring brothers? We are talking about the post partition scenario.So, Mother will always go with the more virtuous son that is the idea so.So, there is a strong metaphor is there, there is subtext there.It is not about just good versus evil, mother personifies Mother Indian. The Title of one of the moviestell us that Ram Lakhan, Karan Arjun. Whenever mothers are brutalized or victimized then,there would be a good son. There is another great classic Melodrama directed by exterioractor director Manoj Kumar and he made a classic called Upkar. Perhaps, you some of you wouldlike to take down the name, it is a Hindi movie highly Melodramatic but extremely Significantto understand the concept of Patriotism, Motherhood and Nation; Upkaar.Again a Classic Story of a Mother torn between two brothers. One brother has gone abroadand he comes back with all westernized corrupt values; you know his most drinks and is alwaysclubbing, because he has been to London, you see that is the reason. And another boy whostays back in India and sings patriotic songs and plough the fields and romances a nice Indian girl.He is the good son and he is even called Bharat,understand.And then at the end there is a fight between Bharat and the villains; and what happen that our herolosses both his arms, that is very significant, what does it suggest?Partition of India.But then he never dies you because Bharat never dies. He exits and the Prodigal Son,the other brother, the evil brother returns and he says now I am your hands.You know these two hands, now they belong to you. So, there was always this wishful thinking,that one especially in post partition scenes, that one day we will all come back together.Even the brother, who has left us the erring brothers, he will come back and get together.This is something that was implicitly all these lost and found films. Therefore, wehave a title like Amar Akbar Anthony. People of all cost Communities, Region, State comingtogether and living happily ever after, and harmonious existence. Again a wishful thinking,post partition but there may be a time, when you will all come back; history has told us something else.But there was a time in cinema was much more Utopian, Idealistic and NaivePerhaps much more innocent and those films indicated this tendency.You haveMr Yash Chopra recently passed away, and you must have any number of articles on his works.So, his first major block buster movie was called ‘Waqt’,made sometime in 1960s.How many of you have scene Waqt? Do watch it is a block buster, it has a mega cast forthose times and beautiful colourful movie. Again it is about deception of a family;Hindu joint family, and how it gets disrupted and then all, everyone losses everyone at theend everyone comes together with good appropriate suitable daughters-in-law.So, that was a theme. So, ‘Waqt’ was the first movie to deal with the lost and found theme, butit was not just lost and found idea, what was being suggested; one day we will all comeback and live together, a happily ever after.So, Melodrama in other words, has a lot totell us about the social political and cultural significance of a period.Now, there is another scholar Thomas Elsaesser and who maintained in 1972 that, melodramacan be analysed through Complex Mise en Scene and Ideological Criticism. You do understand,what is an Ideology? To wish that all communities and states in India will live together;Ideologies are however utopian, it is an Ideology of some sort. So, that is Ideology that I am givingyou in a very simplistic terms; that this is what Ideology if you want to look at.You know blacks and whites in America; they will live together happily and harmlessly.There would not be any racial riots; there would not be any discrimination. Many movies ofthat period did show that there would be a time when everyone would coexist extremely happily.And we were talking about Seven the film, remember; where we said that,Morgan Freeman race does not come into the picture at all, so there Ideology something else in Seven.Does ‘Seven’ have an Ideology or is just a Psychological Crime Drama?Student: Conveniently, it does have an ideology but,.But is not very in your face Ideology, like Fight Club. Fight Club has a very distinct ideology, Seven may not.But what I am trying to say is that, the hero’s skin does not matter at all in Seven.But if you watch all movies by Spike Lee, ‘Do the right thing’ then there is an Ideology.So, therefore, and it is they are all Melodramatic.Do the right things is as melodramatic as become; racial riots one fine day in New York between two races;Italian Americans and the Black Americans. And there is this man Sal,who has been living in this black dominated area for a very long time, he runs a pizzeria,and at the end the pizzeria is burnt down by a group of black people because they feelthey have been discriminated against by the Whites.So, Salvatore’s pizzeria which has been there as an indicative of racial harmony;a White existing in a majority black area, black dominated area, so pizzeria is burnt down.This was the place that everyone would come together and it is very very interestinglymarked by, because he is Italian American. So, Salv’s pizzeria has posters of Al Pacino,Sophia Loren, John Travolta and who are these people?All Italians; all Whites and Italians,Travolta is white is an Italian emigrant too, Al Pacino of course and Sophia Loren.So, the blacks ask him, that why do not you ever put up black actress pictures,poster and he just dismisses that off.He says I do not feel any need do that. He has to pay at the end by having his pizzeria burns down.So, that is what Thomas Elsaesser means,when he say that melodrama can be analysed through it is Complex mise en scene. If you look atthe wall Al Pacino, Sophia Loren and John Travolta’s posters on that; it creates a kind of mise en scene,this is what he is. In the beginning of the movie, we are nottold this at all that there is going to be any kind of racial disharmony in this place,but the mise en scene tells us very clearly that this is a man who only believes in Italian American.So, all the hidden prejudices come to the fore, one fine day and the breakdown of peace.Elsaesser also considers the Family Melodramas of the 1950s as the peak of Hollywood’s achievement.Now many people are there dismissive and very derisive of Melodrama of hay’s code,but then many scholars today believe that the Golden age period of Hollywoodwas when hay’s code was in an existence and when Melodramas were at the Peak,so that is something that needs to be discussed.And in Melodrama, you do not find much psychological debating of characters like in Seven, like in Fight Club.So, you won’t, that is quite postmodernist. Taxi Driver is an out and out interior movie,much of the action happens inside his mind.There is another scholar Geoffrey Nowell Smith,at the moment you can just consider the names and look them up at your convenience.Geoffrey Nowell Smithand he argue thatin Melodrama especially in the films of Douglas Sirk;one finds and Interplay of class and sex, gender values plays a very important part and class.And if you watch Douglas Sirk's movie today, how many of you are familiar with any of the films?We will be discussing, but Douglas Sirk, does he mean anything to you? Not really?Vimal?Not no. Not so far know.Douglas Sirk was a European left wing Intellectual,started his career in Germany.And the other day we were talking about several directors duringthis period migrated to America, remember? Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, William Wyler; rememberthese names, several great directors from Germany to America. In America, he workedduring the at most repressive atmosphere of the 50s, why do we call that a repressive atmosphere?Student: Because of Hay’s code?Not really, hay’s code is not by itself, McCarthy period HUAC;we were talking about Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller, remember.So HUAC,the communist phobia that existed.So, from one repressive regime to another; and then in spite of that scholars believe that Sirkmanage to make films that are critical of the prevailing Ideology. And now he is notplaying handball with the dominant Ideology, he is actually being subversive, if you readbetween the lines; that is what scholars like Geoffrey Nowell Smith believe about Douglas Sirk.Remember, he is talking about criticizing certain Ideological tendency in America andcertain tendency about the Interplay of Class and Sex in America.So, Douglas Sirk’s movies are a critics, offer an interesting and important critic of those tendencies.In Germany, he was influenced by the works of Bertolt Brecht and Robert Wile.Brecht and Wile were Collaborators. Wile was a Producer also Music Director.Brecht of course is the Theatre Director who gave us the theme of theory of, Brecht?Brecht gives usAlienation,theatre of Alienation.What is the alienation?Breaking the Fourth wall, instead of youremember I told you, shedding tears from your mind and not from your heart.Most of Melodrama focuses on shedding tears from your heart,but Brecht believed in shedding tears from your mind, from your brain.So, scholars also believed that, because the Douglas Sirk created a strong mise en sceneusing strong, so these are the features of mise en scene; strong primary colourscontrast of dark and light,exaggerated acting and gestures,and settingsthere by creating a strong mise en scene.That was one element of creating or making his Melodramatic features.Emotional access, we already understand. And then background music which tells, not just shows.So, we were the other the day someone, Shwetha and Tara were talking about the songKabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham; which recurred so frequently, it makes the movie extremely Saccharin and sweet,that is the idea. So, that is the idea to play on emotions, to manipulate emotionsand all the emotions are basically saccharin sweet.So, Emotional accesses and telling background music hallmark of Douglas Sirk Melodrama.And his one major film is ‘Written on the Wind’ 1956,and Cahier du Cinema Critics were extremely interested in this film,because of the way he uses mise en scene.And it is generally believed that his ironic mise en scene operated on 1950s middle class America.I am taking you go back to the original ideas that they offered, his films offered a criticof then prevailing ideologies in America and also the interplay between class and gender.‘All that heaven allows’; Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson directed by Douglas Sirk,consider the mise en scene, I give you one minute, consider the mise en scene. It is one of thoseimpossible love stories and older woman and younger man. Woman situation is much morecomplicated, because she is also a widow with grown up children.She falls in love with this protagonist, who is also her Gardener.Now, we were talking about mise en scene and ideological considerations.Can you give me some indications, some ideas of what this mise en scene tells you all about?Do you find deep focus here?We have been talking about deep focus, which the focus is not just on what is fore grounded but also on thingwhich are in the background. You understand the way he uses colours, décor, and alsocinematographic which exploits the background details as well. Now tell me? What do you find?Student: BackgroundOk Student: Seems pretty stand.Yes Student: And the interior scene cosyInteriors are cosy, but it is snow, it is cold and it is frozen, that is her condition.She is dressed always in very subdued colours; whereas his couch is warm it is you know,it suggest something which is bright and happy. But then of course she cannot; what is thesignificance of that a little font?Return to happiness perhaps, return to more Idyllic, and more Idealized form of life.But then at the end she is denied happiness and thisis the way the movie be and look at the primary colours. When you see colours like this definitelyyou know you are not watching at David Fincher movie. So, how filmmakers you make use ofcolours to tell you that look, this is a romantic picture, this is a woman’s picture.So, what colours do you find here?Student: BrightBright, Pestles, Oranges all these things, and nicely the title;title also is Pretty Melodramatic, all that heaven allowsSo, play of class and sex is carried out in the Iconographic of the film.But let me first talk to you about, ‘all that haven allows’,and how does it end. So, because the Woman is the wealthy widow and the man is, her loveris a poor gardener and she is much older to him. So, therefore they cannot be united at the end,after all it is 1956. So, what happens at the end, her grown up children ask the man to leave the place.Also think of a movie like Lady Chatterley’s Lover;because it is the same idea repeated, but in much more subtle and you know platonic terms.So, the hero is at the end asked by the children to leave the house and he lives, and the woman knowsthat he is living to they cannot even say their final good bye to each other and thenthe woman's son very suggestively gifts his mother with a television.That this is your life, you know you are a widow, you are wealthy; you do not have to worry about anything inthe world about materialistic aspect of life, just sit at home comfortably, we are thereto look after you, watch television. Now what does it tell you about class and sex?That is the way it ends; she sits and she switches on the television set, and the movie ends.Any comments on the class?If only the man belong to the same social status perhaps,her children would not have at that much of an objection, but mother fall in for a gardener,that is one thing, so class. Sex of course, you know a woman of a certainage is not supposed to have these tendency, the romantic notions. She is supposed to accept,that she had a husband once, she lost her husband when she was pretty young, she raisedher children; such a woman has no rights to expect love or a man’s affection at her age.She not extremely old, you know just like perhaps in her late 30s or early 40s,but she is the anyway regarded as a relics and you are supposed to sit at home and watch television.So, lot of commentary on the class and gender situations of the time.Another movie ‘Written on the Wind’, now look at mise en scene again here;the prism of conspicuous consumption and décor, costume and how spaces are utilized in the film.There is a woman, the heroine as played by Lauren Bacall. Lauren Bacall, perhaps some of youhave watched her, The Big Sleep, To Have or Have Not. So, that the great Lauren Bacallwho was once married to Humphrey Bogart. And her husband who is the play boy an extremelywealthy play boy, and then Rock Hudson arrives on the scene, who falls in love with the lady of the house.It is a loveless marriage, husband is an alcoholic playboy, there are lots of problem in this marriage.The marriage is already on the verge of collapse and then,this nice young man arrives on the scene and you see his reflection in the mirror; mise in scene and decorsComment on the decor and mise en scene?Written on the Wind is Douglas Sirk’s most popular movie. Cahier du Cinema Critics havejust gone to Sirk praising it to the skies, because of it is strong Melodrama;so not such derisive genre, but something that have to be understood and to be analysed.What do you see Vimal?So, you see central image is that of that man who is going to her lover soon.Husband is relegated to the side lines already. And the woman is strong, bold, confident,smart and then you see signs and tropes of conspicuous consumption.So, we are being told, this is wealthy family; the way they look, the way the body language, the decorof the house, everything is extremely suggestive.Now, here look at this particular scene.The lady is walking and with the husband of course, he is still her, they are still marriedto each other and then she is followed by this would be lover in the background.And there is a something in the background,very conspicuous,cupid; and cupid comes betweenthe wife and the potential lover, this is the way attentions to the detail were given,so, Douglas Sirk Melodrama; and if you watch our movie which are extremely high on creationof Melodrama through mise en scene.Can you think of certain, I mean the other day yougave examples from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham; so it is full of symbols and signs,all kinds of tropes are there; what is fore grounded, what is there in the background,what are we supposed to understand, use of background music.‘Written on the wind’, and here the lady is looking at the port I mean which is that Iconography?What is that, in the background is her father’s portrait; her late father’s portrait andnow she is occupying his seat, she has inherited all the wealth, and she is with the same image of,a same model. They are in the construction business as her late father use to.So, what does that suggest, she has taken over the mantel of her father.Important films by Douglas Sirk and all extremely, important to understand the notion of Melodrama;in the 50's, ‘All that heaven allows’. We have been talking Vimal, quite frequently abouta movie called Far from Heaven; it is a reinterpretation of this. All our desires, Magnificent obsession,Written on the Wind, There is always tomorrow, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, and Imitation of Life;if you consider the titles, they alone sound like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham,Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna that kind, so extremely melodramatic and extremely in your face.So, we are still talking about Classic Hollywood and melodrama as an integral feature of it.So, 50's and it was also the period with witness the emergency on so called Anti-Hero,one of the major actors of this generation was Marlon Brando. We have already been talkingabout method acting, so this period witness the emergence of method acting which by 70'scame into its own Pacino, Hackman and De Niro, Nicholson, but 50's saw consciousness aboutdifferent kind of acting; which was not the true cinematic acting. I mean if you watcha movie like, Magnificent Obsession, all these Douglas Sirk’s classics,Written on the Wind, All that heaven allows, you will understand it was a very exaggerated kind of acting,method acting change the face of acting by the 50's.So, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando and James Dean the exponents of Method Acting. And what did they play?They were not the romantic heroes of the 40's and the 50's; they were no Gregory peckor highly principle heroes, what did they specialize in; they would play partsof hero’s who were flawed more angst-ridden, anti-establishment, Gold Digger.So, we were talking about ‘A place in the sun’, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor where Monty Cliftis an unabashed Gold Digger; he ditches his pregnant girlfriend and falls for ElizabethTaylor who is much prettier and definitely much wealthier.‘A place in the sun’, directed by George Stevenand based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser's, an American Tragedy.Classic Hollywood screenplay and the other day we were talking about Cecil B Demilleand how screenplays were written. So, Classic Hollywood were still in that Classic Three Act Structure;the beginning, the middle and the end.It was also a time when producersdictated terms and interfered with the process of writing screenplays, and Vimal when didthese process end, producer interfering with the process of writing?Student: New Hollywood New Hollywood, we have been talking aboutDennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s ‘Easy Rider’, that was the movie that changed the face of Hollywood.Before that there was ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and even before thatthere was a ‘Hard Day’s Night’; so those are the film that you should be watching soon and thenyou will understand that, those movies completely jettison the idea of Classic Three Act Structure.There is no beginning, no middle, no end and no closer.In Bonnie and Clyde they die, but in Easy Rider again, it is quite open ended. And a Hard Day’s Night is definitelymore much more experimental than many films made that time.During the Classical Hollywood period screen writers were mainly Journalist and Novelist.So, they still drew on material from Literature and Journalistic sources.So, people like Faulkner and Tennis Williams, and even a great writer like F Scott Fitzgerald, he tried hishand at screenplay writing and much of his experiences with Hollywood is seen in the‘Last Tycoon’ directed by Elia Kazan that we have been talking about that also.Then bestselling authors James Cain and Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and if you wantto understand more about the art of Classic Screenplay then I would refer, I would suggestthat you read Syd Field’s ‘The Screenwriter’s workbook‘.Have you done work on Robert Towne?Did some homework? Tell me about Robert Towne, listen to this Vimal?Student: I know that he is writer of Bonnie and ClydeCredited or Un-credited? Student: I do not know that Mam.Robert Towne is the un-credited writer of for a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, and he remainedun-credited for majority of his films that is very interesting, but he got rich by remaining un-credited.He would just take money; he was like today we call these set of people as script doctors.So, he majorly did script-doctoring for people.Student: At least for few work he could have credited.Could have been, who knows that every possibility, but then he became, so prominent, so influentialand so magnificently wealthy. I mean if you read works on Robert Towne, you will understandhe was much wealthier than many of his peers, who were successful Hollywood directors.So, that is the power of Robert Towne, a very interesting personality, so you must read upon him.‘On the waterfront’, again we were talkingabout the other day while discussing Elia Kazan; follows the same structure, Elia Kazanfor all hisaffection for social realism and all happens to be quite a traditional kind of a filmmaker,so follows the tradition quite faithfully. You have watched ‘East of Eden’,so you know and that is also a material based on Novel by John Steinbeck.So, these were the Great Movies, ‘The Hustler’ by Starring Paul Newman,faithfully following the Classic Screenplay Structure.‘A Place in the Sun’, the movie I was just referring tostarring Elizabeth Taylor, Monty Clift and George Steven is the director.Any comments you would like to?Now, let us talk about Robert Towne, what was the question again?New Hollywood, he is not a Classic remembered?Bonnie and Clyde is the watershed film which came and heralded the age of New Hollywood.So, Robert Towne marks the New Hollywood not Classic Hollywood. So, Bonnie and Clyde onwardswe saw a complete change in the way scripts were written.Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda; who wrote this screen?Dennis Hopper always took the credit and Peter Fonda said he never wrote a word.There have been lot, but then Dennis Hopper was violent andaggressive and always carries a gun with him. So, Peter Fonda said I have to give him the credit,because I would never know what would happen, if I do not. Dennis Hopper always,famously carried a gun, so that was the thing. And the only man who could put him in hisplace was the great John Wayne, who one day brought a bigger gun to the sets and he saidcome out Dennis Hopper wherever you are hidden up.After that Dennis Hopper maintain peace with John Wayne.‘Easy rider’ is the movie that changethe way screenplays were written, because there was no screenplay; they would come onthe sets and improvise. But the story idea was definitely Peter Fonda’s,so that is the story. But screenplay, the classic three acts, they were no longer observed.But Robert Towne of course was the very discipline writer, and he contributed,‘China Town’ is a very disciplined screenplay.So, Robert Towne’s contribution is there, but thenhe also marks change in the way scripts were written in Hollywood, that we will be seeingwhen we look at new Hollywood in much more details.Any other question?The other day someone was asking about, so where is Hitchcock in all this?So, Hitchcock is at the peak in Classic Hollywood period.And you have films that now, you known without a doubt, undoubted Classics.Even I confess with Monty Clift, which is not widely seen movie;if you watch it, you find that there are so many redeeming features, and it isone of his lesser known movies, but very very interesting Film.‘Rope’, I am sure most of you are familiar with, all of you have watched? You must.‘Strangers on a Train’.His classics, Notorious, North by Northwest with Cary Grant. So, Cary Grant and James Stewartwere his favourite actors. He also worked with Gregory Peck in ‘Spellbound’with Ingrid Bergman, Salvador Dali worked on the dream sequences in Spellbound.Rebecca based on the Daphne Du Mauriers novel,and he also did another Daphne Du Mauriers short story ‘the birds’.And now Hitchcock is very interesting director and there are two recent movies on him.So, these are the books that I would suggest very strongly.There is a book called ‘Screening the Past: memory and nostalgia in cinema’,‘The Oxford guide to film studies’ by E. Ann Kaplan,and Pam Cook’s Screening the past and Kaplan’s. The Oxford guide to film studies;just take down the titles.Thomas Elsaesser, I was just talking to with reference to Melodrama; so his paper is ‘Tales of Sound and Fury:observation on the Family Melodrama’.Geoffrey Novelist Smith’s ‘Minnelli and Melodrama’;which Minnelli are we talking about? Vincent. Who was is famous daughter?Student: Liza Minnelli.Liza Minnelli’s mother is the famous Judy Garland ‘The Wizard of Oz’ actress and ‘A star is born’.Any questions here on Classic Age or Golden Age of Hollywood?From our next class onwards we will start talking about the New Hollywood Period.Any comments or observations about this?So, that was Melodrama