Project Proposal


I know that I definitely want to engage with the revisionist melodramas of Todd Haynes; however, I am still floating several ideas around. The films that I will possibly work with are: Mildred Pierce (1945), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), Far From Heaven (2002), and Mildred Pierce (2011, TV miniseries). I’m interested in what these works say about popular forms and social order, and inspired by our class discussions about the ways in which ideology is embedded in genre. I’d like to investigate what Fassbinder’s and Haynes’ adaptations carry, transform, and discard the elements of classic melodramas, and also how their queer perspective is expressed in the films. The overarching theme that I’m pulling out of these contemporary versions is that the directors have more heart for their female leads than the filmmakers of the originals. They seem to have greater understanding of their emotionally layered protagonists. I am also interested in digging deeper into the original melodramas to determine exactly how radical they can be.

Some common motifs that I might explore further in these films are: tracking overhead shots, shadowy living rooms/ homes in the evening, staircases, advertising, characters looking through windows and screens, paintings, curtains, swelling music versus silence, small businesses/entrepreneurship, and conditional acceptance.

Some questions for further investigation:

Firstly, what is a classic Hollywood melodrama and what is the historical context in which it thrived? What are its messages, its purposes, its politics, its treatment of its female characters, and why would Fassbinder and Haynes take up this particular “lowly” genre aimed at female audiences for social critique?

Haynes was part of the New Queer Cinema movement, which was anti-assimilation and rejected homonormative narratives. In light of his past participation in this movement, what does it mean for him to resurrect classic Hollywood film style and genre in Far From Heaven and Mildred Pierce?

The merging of abundantly emotional content (meant to make viewers cry, to identify with suffering characters, to feel sentimental) and political commentary seems like a paradox, as we tend to separate the private from the public. Do the linkages in the films imply that there is no such thing as private experience or feeling that is isolated from larger political movements?

In the Fassbinder and Haynes films, the male body instead of the female body is positioned as the object of desire. What does this suggest about the limits and possibilities of the melodrama?

Mildred Pierce (2011) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul do not address queer issues directly, yet they seem to be just below the surface. How exactly is that conveyed or implied in these films?

What is the role of non-sexual or non-romantic love in all of these films? There seems to be an emphasis on more platonic types of love in these films between married people, women friends, and friends of opposite sex. Do melodramas privilege this kind of love?


Doane, Ann Mary. “Pathos and Pathology: The Cinema of Todd Haynes.” Camera Obscura 19.3 (2004): vi, 1-21.

Gill, John. Far From Heaven. London: BFI, 2011.

Haynes, Todd. Far From Heaven, Safe, and Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story: Three Screenplays. New York: Grove Press, 2003.

Peucker, Brigitte, ed. A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

The director’s commentary on Far from Heaven and Mildred Pierce.

Sources from class:

Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema,  Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg, 2006

Aaron, Michele, ed. New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Project Timeline:

March 24:

  • Finish reading scholarly sources
  • Have thesis and outline for analytic paper

March 31:

  • Transfer thesis and outline to suit video
  • Gather all elements for video in preparation of editing
  • Finish Google Maps

April 13:

  • Finish video draft
  • Finish analytic paper draft

May 1:

  • Turn in every component: map, video, paper

One thought on “Project Proposal

  1. channabach

    This sounds like a great topic! Concrete and specific, but also allows you enough room to see what themes you find across the films and construct an argument you find compelling.

    There is a lot of scholarship on both Fassbinder & Haynes, so you are in a good place on that front. The melodrama angle is interesting, and you’re also going to find a lot of great material on that, as feminist film scholars and gay male film studies scholars have long been interested in the ways that genre treats sexuality, gender, and race.

    Some resources you may find useful: B. Ruby Rich’s New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut**, Harry Benshoff & Sean Griffith’s Queer Cinema: The Film Reader*, Michelle Aaron’s New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, Linda William’s “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, & Excess”** (great piece about melodrama), Harry Benshoff & Sean Friffith’s Queer Images*, Gever Greyson & Parmer’s Queer Looks*, James Morrison’s The Cinema of Todd Haynes : All That Heaven Allows, and this bibliography on Todd Haynes ( Judith Butler also has a great piece on Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, which Haynes drew heavily on, called “Lana’s Imitation”**.

    Looks great!

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