Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Film and Media Studies
This dissertation centers on four auteurist films by Max Ophuls, Liliana Cavani, Nicolas Roeg, and Stanley Kubrick which turned to the artistic, intellectual, and cultural history of fin-de-siècle Vienna in order to adapt classical Hollywood melodrama for the art cinema genre. Drawing on art history, aesthetic philosophy, literary theory, and film studies, the dissertation intervenes in an ongoing discourse about the relationship between modernism and melodrama. Whereas scholars of European art cinema have tended to focus on how modernist provocateurs have appropriated Brechtian Verfremdungseffekte in order to undermine classical melodrama’s immersive emotionality and advance social critique, my project traces an alternative tradition of auteurs who engage not in a subversion rather a submersion of melodrama. Throughout the project, I develop the concept of the “melodramatic unconscious,” the aesthetic and erotic impulses that undergird melodrama’s manifest moral polarities. At the heart of the project are four films which chart turn-of-the-century Vienna’s Nachleben throughout the Cold War and post-Soviet period, when the concept of “Vienna 1900” gained purchase on the international imaginary: Ophuls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974), Roeg’s Bad Timing (1980), and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Each of these films illuminates different dimensions of the melodramatic unconscious—the conceptual, the transformative, the mythical, and the seductive. In chapter one, I examine how Ophuls’s Ur-text mobilizes the conceptual properties of an indexical medium through the metaphor of the circle, the figure par excellence of the Viennese imaginary, from the Ringstraße to the Riesenrad to the waltz. In chapter two, I detail how Cavani explores the perennial melodramatic theme of victimhood through her treatment of Viennese architecture, figuring erotic desire as a neo-Secessionist force of anti-Historicist transformation. In chapter three, I demonstrate Roeg’s affinities with the ahistoricism of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Sigmund Freud, arguing that the film’s saturation of historical citations belies its aspiration to the timelessness of myth. In chapter four, I trace Kubrick’s final gesture of a Viennese-inflected erotics of authorship, a seductive relation effected through hyper-optical form and androgynous authorial surrogacy. Detailed stylistic and narratorial analyses of these key films are situated within a constellation of other Vienna-based films, and contextualized within the broader cultural reception of Vienna 1900 in academia, the art world, and the popular press from the 1930s to the present.
Fulton, Maxfield Walker, "The Melodramatic Unconscious: The Cinematic Afterlife of Fin-De-Siècle Vienna" (2022). Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dissertations. 595.