On Film Stills

Photographs seem to take possession of spaces that are insecure, either due to temporal or physical limitations. And this feeling of possession feeds directly into the aesthetic consumerist mentality that has made us all into image-junkies. As flat and direct as this condition has become, ultimately, having an experience has been equated to taking a photograph of it. Despite all the other effects of a photograph -- a relation to the world, a record of presence, a token of absence -- it is first and foremost an article of consumption. It is an object that is ready to be criticized, appraised, collected, or displayed.

As photographs that are transcribed onto film cease to be tangible objects, a film still taken out of a film gains a new status as an object. Originally, the images of a film are meant to be seen for only as long as the editing allows. There is no time for lingering or back tracking (at least, in a cinema setting). A still allows for the viewer to mull over a single moment for as long as he or she desires. And intrinsically, a film still is much more memorable than the collective moving images themselves since they are "a neat slice of time, not a flow." (Sontag, 17). The iconic image becomes ingrained in the collective public consciousness since it is a neat, easily-processed product to be quickly consumed.

With this, process in time becomes a fixed circumstance. Since there is no film reel rolling on with each new image cancelling out its predecessor, the focus is on the built environment instead of the flow of space – a privileged moment that encapsulates the temporal condition. It is for precisely this reason that by pulling out certain frames of the three chosen films (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, To Catch a Thief, and La Dolce Vita), the narrative of the story takes a secondary seat, and the details and composition can be cited for its intentions and meanings.

Sontag, Susan. “On Photography.”

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