Framed: Women in Law and Film / Edition 1

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Some women attack and harm men who abuse them. Social norms, law, and films all participate in framing these occurrences, guiding us in understanding and judging them. How do social, legal, and cinematic conventions and mechanisms combine to lead us to condemn these women or exonerate them? What is it, exactly, that they teach us to find such women guilty or innocent of, and how do they do so?

Through innovative readings of a dozen movies made between 1928 and 2001 in Europe, Japan, and the United States, Orit Kamir shows that in representing “gender crimes,” feature films have constructed a cinematic jurisprudence, training audiences worldwide in patterns of judgment of women (and men) in such situations. Offering a novel formulation of the emerging field of law and film, Kamir combines basic legal concepts—murder, rape, provocation, insanity, and self-defense—with narratology, social science methodologies, and film studies.

Framed not only offers a unique study of law and film but also points toward new directions in feminist thought. Shedding light on central feminist themes such as victimization and agency, multiculturalism, and postmodernism, Kamir outlines a feminist cinematic legal critique, a perspective from which to evaluate the “cinematic legalism” that indoctrinates and disciplines audiences around the world. Bringing an original perspective to feminist analysis, she demonstrates that the distinction between honor and dignity has crucial implications for how societies construct women, their social status, and their legal rights. In Framed, she outlines a dignity-oriented, honor-sensitive feminist approach to law and film.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Framed is groundbreaking. It pushes law-and-film scholarship forward in significant ways. The question at its core is not how various groups are represented but rather the more difficult one of how we as legal or cinematic audiences are led to judge these groups. Orit Kamir doesn’t simply ‘do’ an analysis of a group of films. Rather, she uses a set of films as a vehicle to explore the mechanisms of judgment.”—Rebecca Johnson, author of Taxing Choices: The Intersection of Class, Gender, Parenthood, and the Law

“In this fascinating book, Orit Kamir displays an original method for reading law and film that illuminates both a remarkable set of films from around the world and many of our deepest assumptions about law. All this is done from a powerful feministic perspective. I know nothing like it.”—James Boyd White, author of The Edge of Meaning

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822336242
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Orit Kamir is Professor of Law and Gender at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan Law School. She is co-director of the Israeli Center for Human Dignity and the author of Every Breath You Take: Stalking Narratives and the Law; Israeli Honor and Dignity: Social Norms, Gender Politics, and the Law (in Hebrew); and Feminism, Rights, and the Law (also in Hebrew).

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Read an Excerpt


By Orit Kamir

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3636-5

Chapter One


Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is among the most enduring and influential classic courtroom dramas. It is also "the best-known Japanese film ever made" (Richie 1996, 79). Presenting and commenting on several testimonies relating a criminal event, Rashomon offers complex, powerful insights on the human condition, the meaning of truth, and the nature of the legal process in its sociocultural context. "It has become one of those few films whose cultural importance has transcended their own status as films" (Prince 1991, 128). The film's title has become an expression used by the public and legal profession alike in reference, among other things, to the nature of law. "Rashomon has come to embody a general cultural notion of the relativity of truth" (Prince 1991, 128).

The expression Rashomon encapsulates a disturbingly relativistic, skeptical view of truth, reality, humanity, and the nature of the legal process. It refers to a situation in which, as in the film, different witnesses toan occurrence offer completely incompatible testimonies of it, as if attesting to altogether different events. This usage implies that objective truth is unattainable and perhaps nonexistent, and that the legal process is a place where subjective narratives can be evaluated only against each other. Additionally, the term implies that humans in general and witnesses specifically compose their versions of reality and truth in the context of self-creation through storytelling; such storytelling voices the inherent human inability to accept ourselves for what we really are and the overwhelming need for self-deception and justification (Richie 1987, 113, 116).

I suggest that the film's celebrated, manifest skepticism regarding truth and law is but one theme, disguising the film's not-so-skeptical, subtextual, popular jurisprudence and cinematic judgment. The film's implicit, underlying worldview is both theoretical and ideological; it is also inherently linked with the film's cinematic judgment, which invites the viewer to participate both in judgment and in gender construction, constituting Rashomon as a participant in society's self-creating process.

The theoretical component of Rashomon's subtextual worldview offers a vision of the close interrelations between legal and social judging, common wisdom, culture, and nature. The ideological component is deeply conservative, androcentric, honor-based, and uncritical. The film's subtextual cinematic judgment relies on and invokes legal conventions and the implied viewer's familiarity with them. Mirroring these legal conventions in its own cinematic judgment, the film invites its viewer to participate, as both judge and jury, in the process of judging a woman and constructing her as "woman" and "guilty" simultaneously. As the film's cinematic judgment involves the uncritical upholding and nourishing of Rashomon's underlying androcentric views, the implied viewer is invited to rely on and embrace these notions, as is the film's real viewing community, consisting of real-life potential judges and jury members. The nihilistic doubts about truth so vehemently presented at the film's shallowest textual level are thus revealed to be a smoke screen, allowing the complex subtextual message to operate unnoticed and hence unscrutinized.

Rashomon was created in Japan, in Japanese, by a Japanese director using a Japanese screenwriter's script. The script was based on two short stories by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa, "Rashomon" and "In the Grove," which, in turn, rely on several eleventh-century Japanese tales (Goodwin 1994, 117). From this perspective, Rashomon can be viewed as a multi-layered Japanese text. But its incorporation within Western culture to the degree of its title becoming a widely used expression over the course of half a century makes Rashomon part of Western culture as well. Significantly, the film was far more successful in the West (particularly in the Anglo-American West) than in Japan (Richie 1996, 79-80). I read Rashomon strictly in the context of Western culture, despite references to Japanese culture and law.

I look at the film in the context of a Western (implied and actual) viewer's familiarity with the conventions of the Anglo-American common-law legal system, with the West's cultural tradition, and with basic features of Japanese culture. I assume that while a Western viewer might not be familiar with the particular honor code portrayed by the film (a cinematic version of the Japanese Bushido code), that viewer does recognize the logic and dynamic of the film's honor culture, which is very close to those portrayed in many Western films (such as, of course, westerns).

Film Synopsis

Rashomon presents three men, a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), a priest (Minoru Chiaki), and a commoner (Kichijiro Ueda), who, finding shelter from the rain on the decaying Rashomon gate, review testimony given earlier in a legal proceeding that took place in the police courtyard. The legal proceeding investigated the death of a samurai, which occurred after a sexual encounter between the samurai's wife and an outlaw. Both the woodcutter and the priest testified during the legal proceeding, and were deeply affected by the case.

In reply to a question from the commoner, the priest explains: "A man has been murdered," encapsulating the event to be discussed in detail throughout the film. He stresses that, even in times of famine and plague, "there's never been anything, anything as terrible as this. Never. It is worse than fires, wars, epidemics, or bandits." The woodcutter beseeches the commoner to help them understand the meaning of the event, and for lack of better entertainment, the commoner consents.

Through flashback, the woodcutter repeats the story he narrated earlier in the courtyard, describing how, three days earlier, walking through the forest in search of wood, he came upon the samurai's body in the bush, a sword still lodged in his chest. After short testimonies given by the priest and the policeman who captured Tajomaru (played by Kurosawa's frequent leading man Toshiro Mifune), the outlaw himself speaks. He is half-naked, a proud and fearsome, noble savage. "It's the truth," he declares at the outset of his testimony. "I know you will kill me sooner or later. I am not hiding anything. It was me, Tajomaru, who killed that man."

Tajomaru's testimony, the first version the film offers of its central event, is by far the longest (twenty-one minutes), most detailed, and most complex in its masterful combination of show and tell. It consists of five courtroom scenes in which the outlaw, in dramatic close-up shots of his expressive face and naked upper body, addresses the camera, (unseen fictional) judge, and viewers. These scenes are complemented by four extended flashback-within-flashback scenes. Tajomaru describes how, on a hot afternoon, he awoke to the sight of the samurai, accompanied by his wife on horseback. At that moment, the breeze lifted the woman's veil, and for a split second Tajomaru beheld her carefully made-up face, and tiny feet dangling in a childish way. Aroused, Tajomaru grasped the sword that was resting between his legs, raising it in a phallic gesture. "I thought I'd seen an angel. I decided I'd take her," he testifies.

Promising to sell him stolen swords at a bargain price, Tajomaru leads the samurai into an isolated clearing, where he attacks him and ties him up. He rushes back to the woman (gently seated by a spring) and reports that her husband was bitten by a snake. Tajomaru testifies: "She turned pale and stared as if her eyes were frozen. She looked like a child turned suddenly serious. Her look made me jealous of that man. I started to hate him. I wanted to show her how he looked tied up like that. I'd not thought of such a thing before, but now I did."

Tajomaru pulls the woman to the clearing, where, after a very long moment of silence, she grabs her dagger, and for another long minute and a half attacks the outlaw fiercely and skillfully, attempting to stab him. Bewildered, excited, amused, and engaged, he rebus her attacks (although not a bite), his voice-over commenting that "she was fierce, determined." Finally, realizing her defeat, sweating and breathing heavily, she sobs as Tajomaru approaches and grabs her. The outlaw laughs, looking at the samurai, as the woman continues to struggle in his arms. As this episode is central to this chapter's discussion, I include the script's description of it:

161 LS [Long Shot]. The woman is in the foreground, helplessly sobbing; Tajomaru in the background. He stalks up to her, she lunges yet again, but now he grabs and holds her. [Fifteen seconds.]

162 CU [Close-up] of the husband watching them; he bows his head. [Five seconds.]

163 CU. The woman claws Tajomaru's face; he wrests her head free ... She struggles but he kisses her. [Seven seconds.]

164 The sky seen through the branches of the trees (pan). [Two seconds.]

165 CU of the bandit kissing her; she stares straight up. [Four seconds.]

166 (= [same shot as] 164). The sky seen through the overhead branches (pan). [Two seconds.]

167 CU from reverse angle; Tajomaru holding her, kissing her. [One second.]

168 (=164) The sky and trees. The camera has stopped panning; now the sun is seen shining brilliantly through the branches. Bell-like music begins. [Three seconds.]

169 ECU [Extreme close-up] from reverse angle; Tajomaru kissing the woman, as she stares blankly at the sun. [Three seconds.] (Kurasawa 1969, 73-4)

Then, the woman's lifeless hand finds Tajomaru's body, and, clutching it, scales his naked body, embracing him passionately.

Bursting with wild laughter in the courtyard, Tajomaru concludes: "And so I had her and without killing her husband. Besides, I hadn't planned to kill him." But then, he continues, the woman demanded: "Stop! One of you must die-either you or my husband. Disgraced before two men is more than I can bear. I will belong to whoever kills the other." Accepting her proposal, Tajomaru released the samurai, and the two engaged in a lengthy, professional, heroic duel that led to the samurai's honorable death.

At the Rashomon gate, the priest remarks that whereas Tajomaru stressed the woman's strength, he, the priest, found her pitiful and felt compassion for her. Through flashback to the courtyard, the priest relates to the commoner the testimony of the woman (Machiko Kyo). The woman's testimony begins: "And then, after having taken advantage of me ..."

After Tajomaru's departure, the woman testifies, she rushed to the bound samurai, sobbing and throwing her arms around him. But, she tells the court: "Even now I remember his eyes. What I saw in them was not sorrow, not even anger. It was a cold hatred of me." Tormented by the samurai's frozen expression, the woman retreats from her husband, repeating, as if in a trance: "Don't! Don't look at me like that! Beat me! Kill me if you must, but don't look at me like that! Please don't!" Covering her face with both hands, she retreats and falls to the ground sobbing. She runs to fetch her dagger, releases the samurai, offers him the dagger, and demands: "Then kill me! Kill me quickly with one thrust!" The camera circles them both, capturing his contemptuous expression. Holding the dagger, the woman, seemingly hypnotized by his gaze, slowly retreats, then returns, constantly repeating: "Don't look at me like that!"

251 U of the woman as she moves steadily forward now; her world forever destroyed, she holds the dagger high, without seeming to be aware of it. The camera tracks with her in the direction of her husband until she suddenly lunges o screen. [Twenty-one seconds.] (Kurasawa 1969, 97-98)

According to her testimony, the woman fainted. Awaking, she saw the dagger in her dead husband's chest. She ran desperately through the forest, and, reaching a pond, tried to drown herself in it. "I tried to kill myself. But I failed. What should a poor helpless woman like me do?"

At the gate, the commoner remarks: "Women lead you on with their tears. They even fool themselves. Now, if I believed what she said I'd be really confused." The priest resumes his flashback narration, now of the testimony of the dead samurai (Masayuki Mori) as given in the prison courtyard through a female medium (Fumiko Humma). In a hollow (dead man's) voice, the medium states dramatically: "I am in darkness now! I am suffering in the darkness! Cursed be those who cast me unto this hell of darkness." Next, she delivers a narration of the events, which is presented as the dead man's onscreen flashback-within-a-flashback: "After the bandit attacked my wife," relates the samurai's voice, "he tried to console her." The voice-over continues, as we see a long shot of the woman and Tajomaru sitting in the forest clearing: "He told her that she could no longer live with her husband ... Why didn't she go with him ... He said he only attacked her because of his love for her."

The medium speaks in the samurai's voice: "Never, never in all our life together, had I seen her more beautiful!" In his flashback, the tormented samurai shuts his eyes in pain in view of his seduced wife. His dead voice continues to narrate: "And what was my beautiful wife's reply to the bandit, in front of her helpless husband? Kill him! As long as he is alive I cannot go with you. Kill him!" The samurai's voice laments through the medium's lips: "Kill him. I still hear those words! They are like the wind, blowing me to the bottom of this pit. Has anyone ever uttered more pitiless words? Even the bandit was shocked to hear them!"

On-screen we see the wife shouting, "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" Horrified at the woman's response, the bandit throws her to the ground, stepping on her, asking the samurai what he would like to have done with her. But the woman escapes, the bandit chasing her. The samurai remains seated, frozen, weeping, heartbroken. Then he grabs the dagger and stabs himself. The medium collapses.

At the gate, the woodcutter paces up and down, proclaiming there was no dagger, rather a sword. The commoner talks him into admitting that he did not disclose the whole truth in his first testimony, and into telling his full version. In the woodcutter's flashback narration, the woman is lying on the ground, weeping, while Tajomaru is pleading with her to come with him, promising to do anything for her and threatening to kill her if she refuses. In response, the woman finally replies: "How could I, a woman, answer a question like that?" She grabs her dagger, runs to the tied samurai, and releases him. Tajomaru understands that the men must decide the issue by fighting, but the samurai, nervously backing away, holding his hand in front of him, shouts, "Stop! Stop! I refuse to risk my life for such a woman!" He says to the woman, "You are a shameless whore! Why don't you kill yourself?" Then, to Tajomaru, "If you want her, I'll give her to you! I regret the loss of my horse more than the loss of her."

As Tajomaru reconsiders and decides to leave the scene, the horrified woman's crying turns into hysterical laughter as she rises and approaches the samurai first and then the outlaw, challenging that if either of them were a real man he would fight for her. "Just remember, a woman only loves a real man. And when she loves, she loves madly, forgetting all else. But a woman can only be won with the strength of swords."

Shamed, humiliated, confused, the men engage in a long, pathetic duel, their heavy breathing and comic falls attesting to their fear and incompetence. Having lost his sword the samurai begs: "I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" To the sound of the woman's blood-curdling scream the outlaw stabs him to death, breathing heavily.


Excerpted from Framed by Orit Kamir Copyright © 2006 by Duke University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Introduction: Conceptual Framework 1

Part I. Feminist Critique of Law Films that Honor-Judge Women

1. Rashomon (Japan, 1950): Construction of Woman as Guilty Object 43

2. Pandora’s Box (Germany, 1928): Exorcising Pandora-Lilith in the Weimar Republic 73

3. Blackmail (England, 1929): Hitchcock’s Sound and the New Woman’s Guilty Silence 90

4. Anatomy of a Murder (U.S.A., 1959): Hollywood’s Hero-Lawyer Revives the Unwritten Law 112

Part II. Cinematic Women Demanding Judgment
From Liberal Attitudes to Radical Feminist Jurisprudence and the Ethics of Care

5. Adam’s Rib (U.S.A., 1949): Hollywood’s Female Lawyer and Family Values (Read with Disclosure and Legally Blonde) 135

6. Nuts (U.S.A., 1987): The Mad Woman’s Day in Court 160

7. Death and the Maiden (U.S.A., 1994): Challenging Trauma with Feminine Judgment and Justice (Read with The Piano) 185

Part III. Women Resisting and Subverting Judgment
Beyond Conventional Feminist Jurisprudence

8. A Question of Silence (Netherlands, 1982): Feminist Community as Revolution (Read against “A Jury of Her Peers”) 217

9. Set it Off (U.S.A., 1996): Minority Women at the Point of No Return 243

10. High Heels (Spain, 1991): Almodovar’s Postmodern Transgression 264

Notes 285

Bibliography 299

Index 313

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