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August 1996, Week 3


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 09:17:58 -0600
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Peter Latham inquires about the
" . . . function of the freeze-frame ending? Is it to provide a "macroscopic"
perspective on the characters and theme of the film?
By the way, what was the first freeze-frame ending? The first I can
remember is the ending of one of Hitchcock's films - Topaz I think in the
I think that in film--to invert a phrase--function follows form.  One must see
where the particular effect is placed and how it works within the context of
a scene or even the film as a whole.
TOPAZ is from 1969.  Probably the most famous freeze-frame ending I can think
of predates that by a decade: Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS.  There is also the
1964 ending of FAIL-SAFE, a shot of pigeons arrested in midflight as the bomb
drops on New York (actually, I can't swear that that's the ending, but it's
the one I remember!).
Those two films alone suggest the variability of the cinematic trope.  In
THE 400 BLOWS, the freeze-frame provides an arrested image of Antoine that
suggests the openness, if not bleakness, of his future.  FAIL-SAFE, on the
other hand, announces that time itself has stopped--at least for the people
of New York.  Consider also the ending of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID,
racing into the sunlight and a cloud of bullets to die in glory--but maybe
not, since there's just the very slightest glimmer of a possibility that somehow
they got out of that trap too.  No such luck for Thelma and Louise, though!
That final moment takes us, perhaps, back to Antoine.
In thinking of  other tropes, one needs to think of the whole film--but also
what an audience is conditioned to expect.  Murnau's use of *fast* motion in
NOSFERATU is meant to suggest weirdness and the supernatural, but seems more
comical to audiences now.  (I wonder how it played when it first opened?)
        When Eisenstein blew up the theater gates in (at least) three separate
shots in POTEMKIN it was a literally revolutionary way to extend time.  Now
try to find *any* explosion in an American film that doesn't use a variant of
the same device!  It's become a cliche.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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