Any one film can sustain a myriad of compelling interpretations. A collection of films, however, sharing formal and substantive qualities, reveals a common effect more than a diversity of meanings. This essay traces the shared formal and substantive qualities of a group of films, as I name them 'trial films'. It documents this genre of film by identifying the genre's norms of viewing and identification. It also investigates the peculiar hybrid discourse of the trial film genre that combines both filmic and legal discursive practices to show how trial films cultivate support for the American system of law through its constitution of a specific viewing audience. In so doing, I broach the following questions: how do images of law in film help sustain the power and legitimacy of legal institutions? How does the study of film genres, like the courtroom drama, reveal the way lives beyond its formal processes?
Patterns of Courtroom Justice,
Journal of Law and Society
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