Shots in the Mirror: Crime Films and Society

Shots in the Mirror: Crime Films and Society

Shots in the Mirror: Crime Films and Society

Shots in the Mirror: Crime Films and Society

Synopsis

Movies play a central role in shaping our understanding of crime and the world generally, helping us define what is good and bad, desirable and unworthy, lawful and illicit, strong and weak. Crime films raise controversial issues about the distribution of social power and the meanings of deviance, and they provide a safe space for fantasies of rebellion, punishment, and the restoration of order. In this, the first comprehensive study of its kind, well-known criminologist Nicole Rafter examines the relationship between society and crime films from the perspectives of criminal justice, film history and technique, and sociology. Dealing with over 300 films ranging from gangster and cop to trial and prison movies, Shots in the Mirror concentrates on works in the Hollywood tradition but also identifies a darker strain of critical films that portray crime and punishment more bleakly.

Excerpt

Crime films reflect our ideas about fundamental social, economic, and political issues; at the same time, they tend to shape the ways we think about these issues. When we look at the relationship between crime films and society, we see a dynamic interplay of art and life. This book examines that interplay from the multiple perspectives of film history and technique, social history, criminal justice, and criminological theory.

Within this broad analytical framework, Shots in the Mirror argues that crime movies, whether they portray cops, courts, prisons, or crime itself, implicitly make two arguments at once. On the one hand, they criticize some aspect of society--police brutality, prison violence, legal barriers to justice, or the threat of crime; on the other, they typically offer us some solace or resolution by showing a triumph over corruption and brutality--the savage cop's arrest, the admirable prisoner's escape, the lawyer's victory over legal barriers, or the criminal's ultimate fall. Thus, crime films offer us contradictory sorts of satisfaction: the reality of what we fear to be true and the fantasy of overcoming that reality; the pleasure of entering the realm of the forbidden and illicit and the security of rejecting or escaping that realm in the end.

This double movement characterized nearly all crime films until about 1970 and continues to characterize most of them today. Since 1970, however, an alternative tradition has been developing that refuses the easy solutions of the past. Bleak and stern, this alternative tradition of critical crime films rejects heroic fantasies and happy endings to show us the confirmed delinquent's delight in violence (A Clockwork Orange), the destruction of the good man who tries to staunch the flow of crime (187), the sorry existence and inevitable execution of the minor gangster (Donnie Brasco), the ruinous results of greed (A Simple Plan), and other intractable issues in social justice. No one is saved in these critical crime films; indeed, there may be no hero at all, or the apparent hero may be indistinguishable from the villain. While this alternative tradition is unlikely to replace the easy satisfactions of more familiar crime films, it will continue to pose . . .

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