By Victoria Sturtevant
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Additional info for A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler
Mack Sennett, a parodist, and D. W. Griffith, a melodramtist, both started their careers at Biograph, so Sennett could lay claim to an across-the-lot familiarity with the logic of Victorian melodrama that fueled early narrative cinema. Sennett’s films nearly always feel like jabs at his former colleague and hold the conventions of sensational melodrama up to ridicule. Made just after the 1914 appearance of sentimental epics like the Italian Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone, 181 minutes) and The Birth of a Nation (D.
Each of the following chapters deals with ways Dressler’s performances retooled the generic logic of her films, using several different forms of melodrama as a basis for the analysis. Chapter 2, “Breaking Boundaries: The Unruly Body,” investigates how the star’s expansive use of her body upset boundaries of gender, ethnicity, and class during the transitional years of the early sound era, paving the way for her later stardom. Here Dressler’s posture and style of movement are used as a basis for discussing how melodramatic and comic narrative modes are dynamically combined in her performances.
This often takes the form of stunting: characters leaping from trains onto moving cars, sword-fighting, or swinging across canyons on flimsy ropes. Mack Sennett, a parodist, and D. W. Griffith, a melodramtist, both started their careers at Biograph, so Sennett could lay claim to an across-the-lot familiarity with the logic of Victorian melodrama that fueled early narrative cinema. Sennett’s films nearly always feel like jabs at his former colleague and hold the conventions of sensational melodrama up to ridicule.