Shattering the Illusion of Movies: Good Freeze Frames and How to Find Them

By  · Published on December 30th, 2016

Sometimes the chaos of motion needs to be still a moment.

We all know that movies are illusions, not only based often on what they depict, but the very act of filmmaking in and of itself is an illusion. Movies make motion out of stillness, they take hundreds of thousands of images and play then in such a quick succession – 24 frames a second, usually – that we don’t even notice the minuscule spaces between them, and instead perceive motion, action, and being where there is none.

In the early days of cinema, keeping the mechanics of this illusion from the audience was priority one, but as time went by filmmakers began to see the merits in the occasional stillness in a sea of motion, and thus the freeze frame came into existence. In the beginning the freeze frame was used as a transitional device, a way to move from one scene to another without severing the connective thread. As the technique came into more prominent use, its employment started to vary. Freeze frames were now used for narrative purposes, to pause a story for extra exposition or to draw attention to specific objects or moments of characterization. Still, like voiceover narration and other such obviously artificial storytelling devices, the freeze frame is a fickle mistress: use it too much and it becomes stale and predictable, but use it too little or inappropriately and whatever effect it has is lost in the film. How then to determine what makes a good freeze frame and what is better left to the illusion of motion? Fortunately, we got a video for that.

It comes from the very talented Leigh Singer and was made for the fine folks over at Fandor. In it Singer walks us through the history of the freeze frame and provides several examples of when it’s been used effectively. Seen like this, the value of the technique really comes to light, even the value of its artificiality. Pause for a few minutes to give it a watch; you’ll never look at the illusion of cinema the same again.

Related Topics:

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist