The freeze frame (sometimes referred to as freezing of the image or frozen image , in imitation of English freeze frame or freeze ) is a cinematographic process, obtained in post-production , which consists in duplicating ad libitum a photogram of film, either to highlight this photogram, or to have the public identify the taking of a photographic shot by one of the characters in the film, or to freeze the space and thus give the public a clear sign of the end of the story (identified with the movement).

Film End

This last use at the end of some films could be commented on by the analysis given by André Bazin in 1945 , Problèmes de la peinture , repeated in 1958 in his famous article Ontology of the Photographic Image  : “Photography does not create like art, eternity, she smells the time, she just evaded his own corruption 1 . ” Indeed, still, by freezing space, product of time as a phenomenon, seemingly contradictory, which is not specific to the cinema, but that applies to his language, time / data space having in cinema a variable ratio 2. The animated film, stopping its movement in space, leaves active the only temporal data and joins the semblance of eternity of photography . Thus the film Thelma and Louise (1991) ends with the announcement of the impending death of the two friends who throw themselves into the void in their car rather than being arrested by the police. But the image freezes before the vehicle tilts in the void, and there remains of the two heroines, in the memory of the spectators, the intact and peaceful bodies, side by side, propelled to the sky by the power of the engine and the indefectibility of photography.

In addition, the freeze frame was commonly used at the end of the films in the dubbed versions of American works whose credits originally took place on a moving shot: the absence of an international version (blank tape) of any title or subtitle) forced foreign broadcasters to freeze the last frame before the written indications, to serve as a support for the credits translated into local language. Today, it seems obvious that viewers are not afraid to see generics in the original language, and the process used for this purpose, seen as reductive and unnecessarily expensive, has been abandoned in favor of the moving image. ‘origin.

Taking a snapshot

In Death on the Cue (1959), when Roger Thornhill ( Cary Grant ) went to the UN headquarters and witnessed the assassination of the politician he wanted to meet, he grasped the weapon crime to remove it from the body that falls in his arms; a photographer activates his flash right now. A freeze frame authenticates the taking of the cliché, a snapshot that will make Roger Thornhill the suspect number 1 whose portrait will appear in the headlines.

The uses of this type are legion in the cinema and in the series. As soon as a hostile spirit wants to build a folder to trap one of the characters, freeze frame, accompanied by the characteristic click of the camera, sometimes multiplied in burst mode , hack the activities of the subject watched. The clichés obtained are presented sooner or later by a master singer or a police department or other … In the film Memento(2000), it is the main character himself who constitutes the pillars of his life that a faulty memory makes him impossible to sustain. He has tattooed on his body written information and he always has at hand an instantaneous camera to try to fix the image of places and characters he meets. These photos are not strictly speaking stills, but they have the same effect of time suspension, and the photographic puzzle that reconstitutes the so-called amnesic, and that mixes and interprets according to its madness, reveals to the spectators that he is above all a serial murderer.

Enhancement pictorial

In Cleopatra (1963), with Elizabeth Taylor , the beginning and the end of the film, but also the links between the scenes (set of sequences ), are presented with the same “layout”, one could say: filmed in a bench -Title , an antique mural fresco (with cracks attesting its antiquity) progressively becomes more precise in the line of his drawing which becomes trompe-l’oeil before being a freeze-frame of a fraction of a second, which comes alive suddenly, launching the sequel to the movie. At the exit of the stage, the same process, inverted, returns the story to its “historical” representation in the form of a new fresco which, by fade-out, discovers another fresco which, in turn, by modifying itself, will open the next scene. For this film with considerable budget, but which was a resounding commercial failure, the effect of freeze frame is rather sumptuous, especially when Cleopatra is projected in 70 mm .

More modest in the use of a similar effect, but popular success, the British film Snatch , directed by Guy Ritchie in 2000 , presents each character using a freeze frame whose photogram then undergoes a solarization and a colorization, accompanied by name of the comedian who embodies the character.

On the other hand, a director as prestigious as Alfred Hitchcock , in another commercial failure, L’Étau ( Topaz , 1969), was forced to use the still as a last resort to complete a sequence of the end of the film fundamental but incomplete. In the book Hitchcock / Truffaut 3 , American filmmaker tells how public feedback, invited during a preview ( sneak-preview ), had forced him to reconsider the death of the traitor ( Michel Piccoli) and remove the sequence where he was killed in a duel, a duel of honor that the American audience did not understand the meaning. A suicide of the traitor seemed more acceptable, but this sequence had not been planned and had not been turned. Unfortunately, Michel Piccoli was unavailable for a retake ( retake in English), busy playing in another movie. So you had to tinker with editing something that could mean suicide. Alfred Hitchcock thought that an outward plan of the traitor’s house, where he would be seen to enter, would be enough to evoke suicide that a shot offwould make it plausible. But such a plan did not exist, and, contrary to what some filmmakers think as well as many critics and theoreticians, the editing is far from arranging everything.

“There was a plan of the house front view, but it was when the character played by Philippe Noiret visited Michel Piccoli. Hitchcock was then forced to climb the end of this plan, just when Philippe Noiret disappeared inside the house, a particularly shortened plan so that we do not risk identifying the characteristic silhouette of the comedian, d as much as in the film he moved with a crutch … To hold on the screen, this fall of plan was lengthened by a freeze frame, and the overall effect, if it fulfills its mission of rescue, is rather miserable ( a cheat shot , as they say in American, a phony plan) 4 . “

But the freeze frame has noble jobs, and can last much longer to offer us the touching spectacle of a happiness threatened or disappeared, or what will allow to understand the disarray or the madness of a character. The process acts in the same way as the presentation or observation by a character of photographs discovered in the scenery of another character whose personality is an enigma that the clichés partly allow to decipher.


  1. ↑ André Bazin “What is cinema? – Ontology of the photographic image “, Paris, Editions du Cerf, Collection th Art, 1994 ( ISBN  2-204-02419-8 ) 372 pages, quote from page 14
  2. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  130-131
  3. ↑ Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut, “Hitchcock / Truffaut”, Paris, Ramsay al. Ramsay Pocket Cinema, 7-8, 1985, ( ISBN  2-85956-436-5 ) , 311 pages, see pages 282-283
  4. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  347

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