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Article
Criminal Performances: Film, Autobiography, and Confession
New Mexico Law Review (2007)
  • Jessica M Silbey, Suffolk University
Abstract

This article questions the criminal justice emphasis on filmed confession as the superlative evidentiary proffer that promotes accuracy and minimizes unconstitutional coercion by comparing filmed confessions to autobiographical film. It suggests that analyzing filmed confessions as a kind of autobiographical film exposes helpful tensions between the law’s reliance on confession as revealing the inner self and the literary and filmic conception of confession as constituting one self among many. Through a close examination of several filmed confessions along side an examination of the history of autobiographical writing and film, this article shows how filmed confessions do not reveal the truthfulness or honesty of the defendant’s statement. To the contrary, close examination of filmed confessions evidences the performative aspect of all confessional acts.

Like autobiographical film subjects, filmed defendants perform their criminality, or enact their legal identity as guilty on film. Framing the confession through a film camera (as increasingly police and detectives do) stresses the qualities of confessional speech as always in the process of forming an identity, and therefore as inherently unstable and manifold. Building on an earlier article that criticizes the nationwide trend that requires the filming of criminal confessions by comparing filmed confessions to a form of documentary filmmaking, this article engages the same critique by examining filmed confessions as a form of autobiographical film. Doing so relocates the analysis of the filmed confessions from one of truthfulness and voluntariness of the spoken confession to one of advocacy and persuasion by the speaking subject. Analysis of several filmed confessions shows how filmed confessions are more akin to filmed autobiographies: performances of identity in relation to the constraints of the discursive medium (the interrogation). What we learn from the filmed confession is the limits of film and of law to reveal the truth of the crime. This critical perspective undermines the state’s assertion that filmed confessions unambiguously denote the defendant’s voluntary recitation of his criminal act.

Keywords
  • law and film,
  • evidence,
  • confession,
  • fourth amendment,
  • fifth amendment,
  • constitutional law,
  • law and humanities
Disciplines
Publication Date
March, 2007
Citation Information
Jessica M Silbey. "Criminal Performances: Film, Autobiography, and Confession" New Mexico Law Review Vol. 37 Iss. 1 (2007)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jessica_silbey/7/