The (in)justice of cinema: Glimpses of law at 24 frames per second
MetadataShow full item record
This project seeks to examine the relationship between film and the law, both formally and in terms of the social and cultural representations of justice and the American legal system they present when applied in tandem. Starting with the earliest representations of law in fictional cinema – the classic Western – this dissertation examines both the American preoccupation with law and order as expressed in the code of the cowboys, as well as the subversion of that code by filmmakers fashioning Westerns outside of the United States. This paper argues that the strict code governing early American filmmaking – the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 – which restricted the artistic representation of the law as such, had a penetrating cultural impact on the American historical reverence for the law in its cinematography. This veneration for the law extends to more modern politically-themed American movies, as well as to popular "pulp" legal films, which subvert their would-be populist impulses in service of the ideological state apparatus. The Hays Code's anxiety about the power of filmic representations, and the filmmaker's unique moral responsibility, is not an entirely frivolous concern. The Code's observation that films are able to enact events "with apparent reality of life" helps explain the widespread social confusion of the fictional representations of events in films with lived reality, and the Code's warning that "[p]sychologically, the larger the audience, the lower the moral mass resistance to suggestion" helps to shed light on American misconceptions and frustrations with legal problems that do not really exist. The "apparent reality of life" of the cinema itself speaks to the reversal of the Platonic notion of the Real, as well as to the Western intellectual history that asks art to explain itself, engendering the curious phenomenon of "films based on true events" as a pretext for coveted fictions. These currents raise the problem, and ultimately indeed this paper argues, that there is a kind of truth that a film can tell, and that certain "legal" films serve as a supplement to ethical systems that cannot acknowledge lying as a viable moral impulse in certain circumstances.