Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
film, theater, melodrama, drama, domesticity, family
This thesis utilizes the Hollywood domestic melodramas and sex comedies of the 1950s as a lens to discover the evolution of family and home from Eisenhower’s America to modern day. As a mode of expression with roots in nineteenth-century theater, melodrama serves as a primary genre for tracking historical and social shifts in twentieth-century American society. However, as the narrative form has evolved over time, what satisfies melodrama is difficult to define as its boundaries have been redrawn. Historians and film scholars examine melodrama through three overarching schools of thought: melodrama as a genre, a mode, or both. Film melodrama is best illustrated by the 1950s domestic melodramas such as Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956) as well as Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Each of these films focuses on the family and gives the mise en scène, everything that is in front of the camera, tremendous weight, a characteristic indicative of film melodrama. While drama and excess is integral to these domestic melodramas, melodrama as a mode can be created from any narrative genre, including comedy. Such comedies include the Doris Day and Rock Hudson sex comedies of the late 50s and early 60s, most notably Pillow Talk (1959). Pillow Talk illustrates the centrality of the couple and utilizes the will-they-or-wont-they narrative to illustrate separate, gendered, and extravagant homes, similar to the domestic melodramas. A necessary comparison arises between the domestic melodramas and sex comedies that contain plots driven by aesthetically potent surroundings. Thus, the architecture of the home is essential, filling in the gaps left by dialog and actors and serving as the foundation for future films about the home. Lastly, the dramas and comedies of the late 50s and early 60s laid the foundation for contemporary filmmakers during the independent period to explore the home. Films such as Ryan Murphy’s Running with Scissors (2006), Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale (2005), and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (2010) focus on the domestic space and the pivotal role a home plays in the creation of a family. These contemporary films illustrate a challenge to heteronormative suburban dwelling that was indicative of 1950s middle-class life. Ultimately, as indicated by these contemporary films, it is clear that as the American family has evolved, so too have the spaces they occupy.
Katz, Elana, "Explorations in the Domestic Space: How Hollywood Made a Home in Film Melodrama" (2014). Honors Theses and Student Projects. 540.