The freeze frame is generally considered a cheap plastic effect employed to garner a sentimental attachment from an audience. For the most part, I believe this is true, with of course a limited number of exceptions. But it works. Audiences do have a sentimental attachment to these rather cliché cinematic moments. As a fan of the device, I have made up a list of my favorite freeze frame moments in film. Typically these films were made in the seventies and eighties when this effect was at the height of its popularity. (The following appear in no real order).
Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, 1973, directed by Sam Peckinpah
Cutting from past to present, juxtaposing the assassination of Garrett with the slaughter of hens, Peckinpah utilizes the freeze frame to its optimum effect. It pin points the “death of the West” in an ironic juxtaposition that is equal parts haunting and pathetic.
The Border, 1982, directed by Tony Richardson
After all its grit and hard-edged violence, The Border concludes with a freeze frame of its star Jack Nicholson smiling accompanied by the film’s Country Music theme song. Though it is amusing and quite memorable, the motivation for this shot is unclear.
Love Streams, 1984, directed by John Cassavetes
Cassavetes is my favorite filmmaker, and I love all of his films equally. This freeze frame is perhaps the darkest listed. Cassavetes’ last film, Love Streams’ final shot is of Cassavetes waving goodbye behind a rain soaked window. It freezes here, and fades to black. It’s as if he were saying goodbye to his audience.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, 1983, directed by Nagisa Oshima
Oshima’s film ends with Takeshi Kitano in close-up, wishing Mr. Lawrence (Tom Conti) a “Merry Christmas”. No sooner do the words escape his mouth that the frame freezes, and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s music comes gliding onto the soundtrack.
Uncle Buck, 1989, directed by John Hughes
It’s bound to be an image you can never forget, John Candy, as loveable Uncle Buck, frozen in close-up with a stupid grin. Classic, what else can I say?