Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Film: A Film Epiphany & The Freeze-Frame

A book has been released that set my mind wondering.

Screen Epiphanies by Geoffrey Macnab has 32 directors discussing 'the films which inspired them to pursue a career in the movie business, influenced their own film-making practice or stayed with them...' This got me thinking about my own 'screen epiphany'.

I remember the first film that had a significant impact on me. It was the first film I experienced that transcended mere joyous casual entertainment into something that made me realise how film could directly affect my emotions, and therefore reasserted film as a potentially powerful medium that demanded respect and caution. That film was Run Wild, Run Free (1969).

I don't think Run Wild, Run Free is well-known - it's not on DVD yet. I've only seen the film once - sometime during the mid-80's - so my memory of it is vague. I don't remember its plot but I do remember the emotional impact and physical response its ending had on me.

(Spoiler Alert!) The film ends with the main character, a young mute boy who works on a farm, being dragged out of a quagmire. At the moment he's released he makes a sound for the first time - a heartfelt wail if I remember right - then the the film freezes on his mud-splattered and distraught face. As soon as the freeze-frame happened I burst into tears. I remember how that reaction startled my young self.

I think the reason the film imbued this power over me was:

1) I identified with the main character, not only because he was played by Mark Lester who I'd already seen (and envied) in Oliver!(1968), he was also about my age (and we looked quite similar).

2) The film ended with no resolution. I suppose until then I had only seen conventional films with conventional family-friendly happy endings, so this was a shock.

3) That freeze-frame! The sheer power of its abruptness, arriving in the middle of action. The unexpected jolt of a sudden end was new to me; I wasn't ready for the final upsetting image nor the possibility of a freeze-frame.

... Seeing sadness frozen in time...

This recollection made me think about the use of freeze-frame endings in other films. Films such as Les Quatre Cent Coups (1959) (freeze then zoom into frozen image), Thelma and Louise (1991) and Gallipoli (1981) sprung to mind. In these films each freeze-frame occurs in the middle of action: capturing a fatal bullet wound (Gallipoli); the film's heroines(?) falling off the Grand Canyon, preserved in time moments before death (Thelma and Louise); and the hero coming to the end of a journey, finding freedom at the shore and looking directly at the audience (Les Quatre Cent Coups).

Each instance has an undeniably haunting and unforgettable quality, one which usually leaves the audience with an uncomfortable silence, partly due to momentary confusion (is the image stuck?), partly due to the emotional clout, like a journeying car's unannounced collision with a wall, a violent stop.

... A Sudden End.

This is a link to a Youtube clip which at 3.38 mark has an image of the freeze-frame from Run Wild Run Free .