Presenting SEQUENCE 2.3: Mandy Merck on CAROL

In her contribution to SEQUENCE’s ongoing discussion of the maternal melodrama, Pam Cook considers Todd Haynes’ miniseries Mildred Pierce (HBO, 2011). Noting the genre’s characteristic ‘textual fluidity ’ (Cook 2015: 2), she cites the director’s linking of Michael Curtiz’s 1945 film of Mildred Pierce with Max Ophuls’ The Reckless Moment (1949) as crossovers ‘between crime and melodrama’. Haynes’ attention to this hybridity prompts Cook to review the incoherence of mother-love movies; employing Gérard Genette’s term ‘paratextual’, she charts the influence of references outside the film text to this layering of significance.

The feminist scholarship on Mildred Pierce has undoubtedly influenced how subsequent spectators (including Haynes himself) have viewed the 1945 film. Cook’s 1978 study employs the myth of Demeter and Persephone to elaborate its theme of maternal disempowerment. In the incestuous Greek pantheon, Persephone’s mother Demeter, father Zeus and rapacious uncle Hades are siblings whose quarrel over the powers of fertility divide the seasons into the warmth in which Persephone dwells on earth with her mother and the cold that accompanies her annual departure to her uncle in the underworld. Returning to Cain’s novel, Haynes queers these incestuous relations by bringing out a theme suppressed in the film – Mildred’s erotic obsession with her daughter Veda. In Curtiz’s adaptation this homosexual implication is displaced onto Mildred’s friendship with Ida. Conversely, Haynes brings mother and daughter together in a kiss. Cook’s interest in this scene lead her to refilm it in sequential video essays, one in which she overlays passages from Cain’s novel onto Haynes’ images, and another in which she slows the kiss and substitutes a different version of the ‘Casta Diva’ aria played on the soundtrack. In both cases the invocation of these paratexts elicits additional meanings of love and loss in the story’s mother-daughter relationship.

In the spirit of this ‘textual interaction and revision’, the essay that follows examines another adaptation of a novel filmed by Haynes, Patricia Highsmith’s Carol. It too involves a mother threatened with the loss of her daughter as well as a lesbian relationship with incestuous overtones. And it too, I argue, is a generic hybrid, of the maternal melodrama and the romance. In considering Haynes’ 2015 film together with Highsmith’s 1952 novel and the author’s biography, as well as psychoanalytic and feminist theorizations of the maternal homoerotic, I employ a range of paratexts to illuminate the incoherences of Carol.

[Mandy Merck, ‘NEGATIVE OEDIPUS: Carol as Lesbian Romance and Maternal Melodrama’, SEQUENCE: Serial Studies in Media, Film and Music, 2.3, 2017. ISSN 2052-3033 (Online). Online at:  http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/sequence2/archive/sequence-2-3/]

We are very happy to announce that the third contribution to Issue Two of SEQUENCE Serial Studies in Media, Film and Music We Need to Talk about Maternal Melodrama has been published. It is by Mandy Merck, Professor of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London, one of the world’s leading scholars in melodrama studies and author of numerous important works on feminist and queer approaches to the cinema and representations of national identity in US film.

We are continuing to invite sequential responses to the first three entries in this iteration of SEQUENCE. If you’re inspired to respond, especially if you have related research work in progress on any of the topics raised by the first two essays, and/or the SEQUENCE title, in relation to any relevant cultural or communications medium (not just cinema), please get in touch with us at SEQUENCEserial[at]gmail[dot]com. Multimedia responses of all kinds are also very much encouraged. But it would be worthwhile to discuss any substantial response with us at an early stage in your planning. All contributions need to comply with UK copyright law and the current understanding of fair dealing.

If you’d like to offer a shorter response, there is also the option of leaving a comment in the moderated stream at the foot of each SEQUENCE Two entry. SEQUENCES may be long and short in all sorts of ways.

SEQUENCE Two is being edited and produced by Catherine Grant and Katherine Farrimond, co-editors of the SEQUENCE: SERIAL STUDIES IN MEDIA, FILM AND MUSIC project (with Russell Pearce).

Presenting SEQUENCE 2.2: Pam Cook on MILDRED PIERCE

Screenshot from MILDRED PIERCE (Todd Haynes/HBO: © 2011 Home Box Office Inc)In her inaugural essay on maternal melodrama for SEQUENCE Two, Sue Thornham discusses Lynne Ramsay’s critical reappraisal of mother-love in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, analysing in detail the film’s exploration of issues of female identity, agency and control. She illuminates the importance of feminist theory and filmmaking in interrogating social and psychic structures of motherhood. [In my work on Todd Haynes’ adaptation of MILDRED PIERCE (2011) for SEQUENCE,] I take this enquiry in a different direction to argue that feminist scholarship has largely defined the group of films we call maternal melodrama, and has determined the parameters of debate. It is not unusual for critical discourse to retrospectively construct generic movements and cycles: film noir is an obvious example. However, the operations of textual interaction and mediation involved in the processes of genre configuration are not widely discussed. I suggest that the textual fluidity characteristic of maternal melodrama presents a challenge to the ways in which we conceptualise the objects we choose to study and to accepted analytical methods. [Pam Cook, ‘Text, Paratext and Subtext: Reading MILDRED PIERCE as Maternal Melodrama’, SEQUENCE: Serial Studies in Media, Film and Music, 2.2, 2015. Online at:  http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/sequence2/archive/sequence-2-2/]

We are very happy to announce that the second contribution to Issue Two of SEQUENCE Serial Studies in Media, Film and Music We Need to Talk about Maternal Melodrama has been published. It is by Pam Cook, Professor Emerita in Film at the University of Southampton, and is one of a number of follow up pieces of research, in recent years, to her foundational, 1978 article on feminist film theory and maternal melodrama (/ film noir), ‘Duplicity in Mildred Pierce‘, which is known to have influenced Todd Haynes in adapting James M. Cain’s novel for his HBO television miniseries (see also Cook’s 2013 Screen article ‘Beyond Adaptation: Mirrors, Memory and Melodrama in Todd Haynes’s Mildred Pierce’).

Cook’s article follows feminist film and media scholar and theorist Sue Thornham’s essay ‘”A HATRED SO INTENSE…”: We Need to Talk about Kevin, Postfeminism and Women’s Cinema’ (2.1 [2013])

We are continuing to invite sequential responses to the first two entries in this iteration of SEQUENCE. If you’re inspired to respond, especially if you have related research work in progress on any of the topics raised by the first two essays, and/or the SEQUENCE title, in relation to any relevant cultural or communications medium (not just cinema), please get in touch with us at SEQUENCEserial[at]gmail[dot]com. Multimedia responses of all kinds are also very much encouraged. But it would be worthwhile to discuss any substantial response with us at an early stage in your planning. All contributions need to comply with UK copyright law and the current understanding of fair dealing.

If you’d like to offer a shorter response, there is also the option of leaving a comment in the moderated stream at the foot of each SEQUENCE Two entry. SEQUENCES may be long and short in all sorts of ways.

SEQUENCE Two is being edited and produced by Catherine Grant and Katherine Farrimond, co-editors of the SEQUENCE: SERIAL STUDIES IN MEDIA, FILM AND MUSIC project (with Russell Pearce).

SEQUENCE 2.1 eBooks Published

SEQUENCE 1_2 eBook cover

SEQUENCE Two: We Need to Talk about Maternal Melodrama

Sue Thornham’s ‘A HATRED SO INTENSE….: We Need to Talk about Kevin, Postfeminism and Women’s Cinema’, SEQUENCE, 2.1, 2013 is now available in the following free eBook versions:

MOBI             EPUB            PDF             Kindle (azw3)

 

 

INSTRUCTIONS: To open one of the above in your chosen mobile or tablet eReading application, directly select it and follow instructions. To download a version to your computer, right click on it and choose SAVE LINK AS, then open the saved file in your eReading application. With Kindle formats, you should also be able to access the eBook via a Kindle web browser – from the browser just click on the link and follow any instructions.

IMPORTANT: The above free files have been tested by SEQUENCE for their functionality, and are offered in good faith, as is. Your choice to access them by clicking on the above links, indicates your full acknowledgement and agreement that SEQUENCE, REFRAME and the University of Sussex shall not be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with your use of or reliance on them.

Presenting SEQUENCE Two

The figure of the mother preoccupied feminist filmmakers as well as feminist critics of the 1970s. […]  We Need to Talk about Kevin, [Lynne] Ramsay’s film adapted from Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel, needs, I argue, to be added to this matriarchal genealogy. […] Ramsay’s film goes further in placing the mother-son relationship – with all its contemporary as well as mythical resonances – at its centre. It does this, however, in a way that also represents a significant shift of focus.

[Cited from Sue Thornham, ‘A HATRED SO INTENSE….: We Need to Talk about Kevin, Postfeminism and Women’s Cinema’ , SEQUENCE: Serial Studies in Media, Film and Music, 2.1 (2013). Online at:  http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/sequence2/archive/sequence-2-1/]

We are delighted to announce that the inaugural contribution to Issue Two of SEQUENCE Serial Studies in Media, Film and Music We Need to Talk about Maternal Melodrama is feminist film and media scholar and theorist Sue Thornham’s essay ‘”A HATRED SO INTENSE…”; We Need to Talk about Kevin, Postfeminism and Women’s Cinema’ (2.1 [2013]). Thornham’s study is an excellent and very wide-ranging exploration of Lynne Ramsay’s recent film, one that provocatively, and expertly, revisits important debates about maternal representation, matriarchal genealogy, feminist cultural production, and classical and contemporary melodrama.

As we are sequentially inviting responses to the first entry in this iteration of SEQUENCE, Thornham’s article also constitutes a Call for Contributions for further We Need to Talk about Maternal Melodrama sequences. If you’re inspired to respond, especially if you have related research work in progress on any of the topics raised by her essay, and/or the SEQUENCE title, in relation to any relevant cultural or communications medium (not just cinema), please get in touch with us at SEQUENCEserial[at]gmail[dot]com. Multimedia responses of all kinds are also very much encouraged. But it would be worthwhile to discuss any substantial response with us at an early stage in your planning. All contributions need to comply with UK copyright law and the current understanding of fair dealing.

If you’d like to offer a shorter response, there is also the option of leaving a comment in the moderated stream at the foot of each SEQUENCE Two entry. SEQUENCES may be long and short in all sorts of ways.

We should be able publish ‘full-length’ responses quite quickly, although contributors should note that they will be formally peer-reviewed. But there are no editorial prescriptions on length or content, except that your work should be some kind of ‘sequential response’. If you don’t want to respond right away, you can still enter the ‘chain’ of responses later on.

SEQUENCE Two is being edited and produced by Catherine Grant, founder and (with Russell Pearce), co-editor of the SEQUENCE project.