Throwbacklist Thursday: I Learned Law at the Movies

Courtroom dramas and filmed jury rooms have left an indelible impression on Americans. That impression? The law is so straightforward you can wrap up any case in a maximum of two hours. Unless you’re trying to win an Oscar. Then you need two-and-a-half hours. The University of Illinois Press merges its reputation for legal scholarship with its ongoing strengths in filmic criticism to offer a Corleones-and-all survey of how the movies have portrayed the legal profession.

denvirLegal Reelism: Movies as Legal Texts, edited by John Denvir
Law and and justice are important themes in film, not only in courtroom dramas, but also in the western, the film noir, even the documentary. In the Godfather trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola shows that the Mafia possesses its own strict codes, even though they are in conflict with those of the criminal justice system. Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors shows a protagonist who “gets away with murder,” but with a different dramatic intent by the director and a different effect on the audience.

Shedding light on myriad facets of the law/film relationship, the fourteen contributors to Legal Reelism analyze films ranging from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Drums Along the Mohawk to Do the Right Thing, Basic Instinct, The Thin Blue Line, and Thelma and Louise. The first volume to contain work by both humanists and legal specialists, Legal Reelism is a landmark text for those concerned with depictions of justice in the media and the impact of those depictions on society at large.

blackLaw in Film: Resonance and Representation, by David A. Black
The courtroom, like the movie theater, is an arena for the telling and interpreting of stories. Investigators piece them together, witnesses tell them, advocates retell them, and judges and juries assess their plausibility. These narratives reconstitute absent events through words, and their filming constitutes a double narrative: one important cultural practice rendered in the terms of another.

Drawing on both film studies and legal scholarship, David A. Black explores the implications of representing court procedure, as well as other phases of legal process, in film. His study ranges from an inquiry into the common metaphorical ground between film and law, explored through “the detective” and “the witness,” to a critical survey of legal writings about the cinema, to close analyses of key films about law. In examining multiple aspects of law in film, Black sustains a focus on the central importance of narrative while also unearthing the influences—pleasure in film, power in law—that lie beyond the narrative realm. Black’s penetrating study treats questions of narrative authority and structure, social authority, and cultural history, revealing the underlying historical, cultural, and cognitive connections between legal and cinematic practices.