Studies in Law, Politics and Society: Volume 46

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(12 chapters)
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Law on the screen goes beyond film. It takes us to the domains of mind and culture, power and politics, technology and rhetoric, and the changing contours and norms of professional practice, craft, and pedagogy. Law on the screen is a multidisciplinary affair. It embraces empirical/descriptive, political/normative, and jurisprudential/theoretical dimensions of scholarship. By codifying what we know and how we know it, culture and technology mimic the regulatory force of law. But just as law is shaped and informed by technology and culture so, too, are technology and culture shaped and informed in turn by law's power to regulate. Code is a two-way street. Who gets to design the code, how, and with what effect? That is the political question par excellence of our day.

Law and Film both enjoy the power to mediate the social imaginary. Here, we explore the resonance of this insight in the register of affect and intensity, movement, and change. This demands a different approach to doing theory. As Andrew (1976, pp. 66–67) argues, ‘film is not a product but an organically unfolding creative process in which the audience participates both emotionally and intellectually.’ Seeing a film is not just an exercise in imagining alternatives; it is an unfolding experience in time. It is an event shaded with particular embodied dimensions: one's heart races, pupils contract, skin shivers, muscles tense. Involuntary sensations of nausea or vertigo combine with cognitive responses to produce the lived experience of viewing a particular film that is incorporated into one's sensibility, sometimes very powerfully. It is not just that the mind has spent time in a darkened theatre. The body has also had an affect-laden auditory, visual, and tactile encounter. The affect-rooted experience of the film is a piece of the subject's past, its history, its self. This is another way to understand how film not only represents the world, but participates in its making.

In the 1988 film The Accused, a young woman named Sarah Tobias is gang raped on a pinball machine by three men while a crowded bar watches. The rapists cut a deal with the prosecutor. Sarah's outrage at the deal convinces the assistant district attorney to prosecute members of the crowd that cheered on and encouraged the rape. This film shows how Sarah Tobias, a woman with little means and less experience, intuits that according to the law rape victims are incredible witnesses to their own victimization. The film goes on to critique what the “right” kind of witness would be. The Accused, therefore, is also about the relationship between witnessing and testimony, between seeing and the representation of that which was seen. It is about the power and responsibility of being a witness in law – one who sees and credibly attests to the truth of their vision – as it is also about what it means to bear witness to film – what can we know from watching movies.

Various law and film scholars have noted that the judge occupies the place of a marginal figure in ‘legal cinema’ and in related scholarship. In this chapter I want to engage with the debate about the representation of the judge in film by way of an examination of a South African documentary, ‘Two Moms: A family portrait’ (2004). In the first instance this ‘family portrait’ appears to be neither an obvious candidate for inclusion in the canon of ‘legal cinema’ nor a film with a plotline dominated by a judge. But from this rather unpromising start this chapter explores how a film about an ordinary family made up of extraordinary people is an extraordinary film about law in general and about the figure of the judge in particular.

Just as the films that we see are conceived in specific economic, political and cultural contexts, so scholarship is produced within determined situations. This chapter notes some of the driving forces which have led to the emergence of law and film as an area of extensive and very diverse scholarship in the past decade. Whilst these factors have shaped the nature and extent of this work it should be noted that changes in both legal professional interests, academic criteria and within the culture industry mean that we can expect shifts in the nature and patterns of scholarship in the future. These may not, however, be the ones called for by other commentators (Moran, Sandon, Loizidou, & Christie, 2004; Sarat, Douglas, & Umphrey, 2005).

The analysis presented here is based upon interviews conducted with 34 women in Maryland in 1997, one year after the passage of the PRA of 1996, or welfare reform. To locate participants, I distributed fliers to educational and community centers asking for single women raising children and receiving aid who would be willing to share their experiences with welfare. I offered to compensate participants $15 for their time in participating in the interviews. After several initial interviewees were chosen from these sites, other respondents were located using an informal snowball sample.

The chapter explores the role of law in society and its relation to ethical conflicts as reflected through the prism of the film The Third Man. By focusing on the complexities of life in post-war Vienna, the film exposes dilemmas that prevail in ordinary times and in functioning democracies as well. Our analysis suggests that one way to manage these dilemmas and balance the conflicting loyalties and interests they raise is to sustain open channels between the law and other narrative-generating practices from which normative stances are evaluated. The law-and-cinema discourse is one such channel and The Third Man presents, in our eyes, the vitality of that channel, due to its rich aesthetical language and its unique representation of the ethical tensions (and their consequences) in the modern era.

Cover of Studies in Law, Politics and Society
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Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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