* Episode artwork by Mary Symczak! *
A freeze frame is a tool commonly used in films, in fact so common, I'm confident that you have seen them already. It is a simple idea- to create a still image amongst many moving images. A return to the original use of the invention. But while we may know how a freeze frame is achieved, have you ever wondered why we use it? What purpose does it serve to the story? This episode is going to to explore the function of the freeze frame, and it's important role in film classics.
FUNCTION 1: AMBIGUITY
Many film examples which employ the freeze frame use it as the final image of the movie to give it a sense of endlessness. It is a visual way of saying "to be continued" and make the viewers make up their own minds on how the story ends.
One of the most famous examples is of the final scene in acclaimed French New Wave director, Francois Truffaut's 1959 film "The 400 Blows". We follow the main character, a young boy named Antoine Doinel, running until we catch up with him and he turns and faces the camera as the frame freezes. The fact that Mr. Truffaut directed his actor to look into the camera caused enough of a stir on it's own, let alone the ambiguous ending that audiences were not accustomed to:
Ten years later, director George Roy Hill took a page out of Truffaut's book and decided to end his 1969 film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" on a similar note:
CURIOUS? How do the freeze frames affect these scenes differently? Do you think you know the ending?
FUNCTION 2: EMPHASIS
Steven Soderbergh gave us a great example of how freeze frames can be used to add importance to visuals in his 1998 hit "Out of Sight". Our friend from Episode 1: The Femmes of Film, long time editor Anne V. Coates was responsible for the subtle but extremely effective use of freeze frames in this movie. There are a lot of things working together to help us understand how important this moment is for protagonists played by Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney. You will notice that she uses pauses in the song to place her freeze frames adding even more emphasis. Also, through George Clooney's dialogue, we learn that this is a special night for the two of them, not wanting the opportunity to slip away leaving them to regret for the rest of their lives. Anne V. Coates beautifully emphasizes those tender moments, not the sexiest, and gives you the impression that this is more than just passion for these two characters:
CURIOUS? What was important about the moments she chose to freeze in time? How does this reflect memory?
FUNCTION 3: FILLING IN INFORMATION
The most frequent use of a freeze frame is usually in connection with a voice over or narrator. The brief pause in the story gives the narrator a chance to fill us in on any backstory for a character, something we might have missed in the story, and saves time on not showing the scenes which explain these details.
In this classic scene from Martin Scorcese's 1990 hit "Goodfellas", we are hearing the voice of a grown up Henry Hill while we see a young Henry Hill in action:
CURIOUS? How does the juxtaposition of the visuals and the audio make this freeze frame stand out?
Another, more graphic example, of freeze frames is seen in Guy Ritchie's film from 2000 "Snatch". Guy Ritchie often weaves a complicated story using many characters. That is why his introduction to "Snatch" is especially appreciated. We are able to meet each character before we see them in play. Also, the stylization of the image and text add to the pace and look of the entire movie:
Finally, for a high dosage of freeze frames, let's look at "La Jetee" a film by french filmmaker Chris Marker in 1962. This science fiction film is made entirely out of still images.
CURIOUS? How does a movie made out of still images change how you receive the story? Is this effect only functional in a science fiction movie or could it be effective in another genre as well?
The first freeze frame was used by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1928 film titled "Champagne". The scene shows the main character played by Betty Balfour is remembering a party she attended on a boat. Her memory freezes and zooms out and is suddenly a picture hanging on a wall. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a specific clip from this little known silent film, but look for the birth of an important film technique when you find yourself watching the entire movie!