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Carceral FantasiesCinema and Prison in Early Twentieth-Century America$
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Alison Griffiths

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780231161060

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231161060.001.0001

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Cinema and Prison Reform

Cinema and Prison Reform

(p.232) Chapter Six Cinema and Prison Reform
Carceral Fantasies

Alison Griffiths

Columbia University Press

Chapter 6: “Cinema and Prison Reform” examines how penal reformers appropriated cinema for their cause, addressing not only the moral rehabilitation of individual prisoners, but also changes in institutional policy. Paying specific attention to films made by prison reformers like Katherine R. Bleecker, who in 1915 shot footage at three of New York State’s biggest penal institutions (Auburn, Sing Sing, and Great Meadow), the chapter explores where these films circulated (in prisons and outside), what publicity they generated, and in cases where the films no longer survive, evidence of their impact (if any) on prison conditions. The chapter expands the optic of prison reform films to an analysis of commercially made films from the late teens and twenties whose narratives and object lessons were hailed by the press as powerful propaganda for reformist measures, as even more powerful in affecting change as films made specifically for that purpose.

Keywords:   Reformers, Reform films, Melodrama, Katherine R. Bleecker, Prison film, Prison conditions, Prison museums

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