Trial Films on Trial
240 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:04 Jun 2019
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Trial Films on Trial

Law, Justice, and Popular Culture

University of Alabama Press
A collection of wide-ranging critical essays that examine how the judicial system is represented on screen
Historically, the emergence of the trial film genre coincided with the development of motion pictures. In fact, one of the very first feature-length films, Falsely Accused!, released in 1908, was a courtroom drama. Since then, this niche genre has produced such critically acclaimed films as Twelve Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Anatomy of a Murder. The popularity and success of these films can be attributed to the fundamental similarities of filmic narratives and trial proceedings. Both seek to construct a “reality” through storytelling and representation and in so doing persuade the audience or jury to believe what they see.
Trial Films on Trial: Law, Justice, and Popular Culture is the first book to focus exclusively on the special significance of trial films for both film and legal studies. The contributors to this volume offer a contemporary approach to the trial film genre. Despite the fact that the medium of film is one of the most pervasive means by which many citizens receive come to know the justice system, these trial films are rarely analyzed and critiqued. The chapters cover a variety of topics, such as how and why film audiences adopt the role of the jury, the narrative and visual conventions employed by directors, and the ways mid-to-late-twentieth-century trial films offered insights into the events of that period.
Trial Films on Trial successfully brings together distinguished and emerging scholars to engage important questions about law’s representation in film and, fascinatingly, film’s law-like logic.’
—Daniel LaChance, author of Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States
A marvelously generative text which will, I am certain, stand as an important and defining contribution to the field of law and film.’
—Patricia Ewick, coauthor of The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life
Austin Sarat is an associate dean of the faculty and the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. Sarat is the author or editor of more than ninety books, including Imagining Legality: Where Law Meets Popular Culture;Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty; When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition; and Something to Believe In: Politics, Professionalism, and Cause Lawyering.
Jessica Silbey is a professor of law at Northeastern University School of Law and co-director of the Center for Law, Innovation and Creativity. She is the author of The Eureka Myth: Creators, Innovators, and Everyday Intellectual Property and coeditor of Law and Justice on the Small Screen.
Martha Merrill Umphrey is the Bertrand H. Snell 1894 Professor in American Government in the Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought and the director of the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College. She has coedited more than a dozen books, including Reimagining “To Kill a Mockingbird”: Family, Community, and the Possibility of Equal Justice under Law.


Introduction: The Pleasures and Possibilities of Trial Films by Austin Sarat, Jessica Silbey, Martha Merrill Umphrey

Chapter 1. Law and the Order of Popular Culture by Carol J. Clover

Chapter 2. Knowing It When We See It: Realism and Melodrama in American Film Since The Birth of a Nation by Ticien Marie Sassoubre

Chapter 3. Reasonable Doubts, Unspoken Fears: Reassessing the Trial Film’s “Heroic Age” by Barry Langford

Chapter 4. Disorder in Court: Representations of Resistance to Law in Trial Film Dramas by Norman W. Spaulding

Chapter 5. “I Am Here. I Was There.”: Haunted Testimony in The Memory of Justice and The Specialist by Katie Model

Chapter 6. The Appearance of Truth: Juridical Reception and Photographic Evidence in Standard Operating Procedure by Jennifer Petersen

Works Cited



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