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Every film ever made contains a still photo

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Every film ever made contains a still photo

Old 12-19-07, 01:42 PM
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Every film ever made contains a still photo

I found this letter on Roger Ebert's website. This guy claims that every film contains a still image or photo. Let's test this theory. Can anyone think of a film that doesn't contain a still image? How about 2001: A Space Oddessey, does that contain a still? How about the Hitchcock film Rope?

Here's the letter:

From Brad Fay, Southern Oregon PBS, Medford, OR:

This has taken me several years, but, at your request I would like to follow up on a short conversation you and I had in the lobby of the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, California after you were interviewed on Sedge Thompson’s "West Coast Live."

You asked me to write to you and elaborate on my little-known film related observation: “All movies have a still photograph displayed somewhere in the body of the film.” I went on to mention to you that every time I go to a movie, I tap my wife on the shoulder when the still photograph appears. To date, I have yet to see a movie where the "still photograph" phenomenon does not occur.

In fact, I have been observing this phenomenon ever since the early 1980’s when I first heard it mentioned in passing in a film class at City College of San Francisco, and have become a self-proclaimed aficionado on the subject. I could make a list of the placement of still photographs in hundreds of movies for you, but why bother; every movie has at least one. Instead, I invite you to engage in the game yourself. Most recently, I watched “Good Night and Good Luck,” and indeed it is rife with still images.

As I have repeated this little exercise, I have come to often paraphrase Ken Burns from twenty years ago in a National Public Radio interview about his epic “The Civil War.” He observed, “Still photographs are vessels into which we pour meaning and are excellent tools to tell a story.” Taking Ken Burns’ premise further, I have determined (or surmised) the following:

THE STILL IMAGE IS A DEVICE FOR SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: The theory here is that by letting the audience view a still for a moment in a movie, they have to invest some time in pouring their own meaning into the film they are watching.

THE STILL IMAGES ARE OFTEN AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM: This is to establish very early the aforementioned suspension of disbelief so that the rest of the film is plausible. Example: "Dead Poet's Society," Old Pictures on the wall, establishing the traditions of the learning institution in which the Robin Williams character has found himself.

STILLS OFTEN INTRODUCE CHARACTERS: It is a fast, easy way to get a lot of people into the viewer’s consciousness without having to bring them all into the movie at once. It also challenges the audience to look for the person to come to life later in the picture. Classic Example: Opening to "Mission Impossible" (Movie and TV show).

STILLS OFTEN APPEAR AT A PIVOTAL MOMENT IN THE PLOT: Often a film needs to introduce another character at a certain time. Also, a film may need another dose of suspension of disbelief because it is about to embark on something that may not actually be all that believable.

STILLS MAY INCLUDE PAINTINGS: Obviously if the film is set before the mid-19th century, still photographs would be anachronistic. However, filmmakers often get around this by usually showing paintings on the wall, etchings in books, or in the case of "Dances with Wolves," a small painting in a necklace locket.

STILLS MAY INCLUDE VIDEOS: The film "sex, lies and videotape," for example, does not use stills but does use home video within the film to the same effect.

As I have discussed this experience with movie going friends, it has also been observed that film itself is, in turn, a series of still images. Therefore, when a still photograph is brought into a film, one is actually looking at a “still-within-a still.” I have even gone so far as to theorize that this “still within a still” moment invokes in the viewer a subliminal shift in consciousness that evokes one to more fully buy into the movie. It triggers a mental response that allows one to pour enough of their own meaning into a film that they become invested in the outcome.

So Roger, what do you think? Is it just me that bugs my wife every time a still image comes into view on the screen? Is there any research, to your knowledge, on this subject? And why only films and not all TV shows? You actually had your own theories on the differences between film and TV in your conversation with Sedge Thompson at the very interview where I first conveyed my observation to you.

Further, I will defy anyone to show me a film that does not make use of a still image somewhere in the work. Indeed, I think all film writers (probably unconsciously), must go through a process wherein they have written themselves into a corner and can only escape by writing a still photograph into the script.

Back to Ken Burns. I found it interesting that his “Civil War” series did so much better than his more recent “The War.” Did Ken Burns forget his own theory? Given the era, the only period visuals available for “The Civil War” had to be still photographs, whereas “The War” used primarily rolling stock footage. I submit Ken would have done better with “The War” had he frozen more of those images, and let the viewer sublimate their own pain, suffering and outcomes, rather than let stock footage tell us too much.

Reply: Stills also appear in the guise of newspaper photos, as in "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Citizen Kane." Or as billboards ("Dark City"), postcards, murals, flash-frames and posters. And is a slo-mo flashback really a memory trying to be a still? I'm going to start looking. -- RE
Old 12-19-07, 01:46 PM
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Does Star Wars have any still photos?

I think the number "23" appears in more movies than still photos. I could be wrong though.
Old 12-19-07, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by nodeerforamonth
Does Star Wars have any still photos?
Um, the Death Star plans?
Old 12-19-07, 01:50 PM
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Fuck me, now that's all I'm going to look for when watching movies.
Old 12-19-07, 01:52 PM
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Originally Posted by nodeerforamonth
Does Star Wars have any still photos?
How about the holographic recording of princess Leia?
Old 12-19-07, 01:56 PM
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The guy includes paintings and videos. I'm sure he'd include road signs too if someone challenged him on it.

His photo theory is a bunch of phooey.

It's like saying every movie has an actor...including voice over actors, animated actors, and even actors not played by actors, like an animal or inanimate object.

Last edited by Shannon Nutt; 12-19-07 at 02:00 PM.
Old 12-19-07, 01:57 PM
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300
apocalypto

Just guesses, Im thinking outdoor flicks.
Old 12-19-07, 02:00 PM
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So what's the big deal? Most movies are about people, and people own pictures. A lot of people use pictures for various purposes in their everyday lives, or at the very least have them displayed somewhere. This is like saying "Have you ever noticed every movie ever made has someone wearing clothes? Weird!!!"
Old 12-19-07, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by The_Infidel
So what's the big deal? Most movies are about people, and people own pictures. A lot of people use pictures for various purposes in their everyday lives, or at the very least have them displayed somewhere. This is like saying "Have you ever noticed every movie ever made has someone wearing clothes? Weird!!!"

Yeah, besides claiming that every movie has a still, claiming that the presence of any sort of still has significance is just stupid.


A better theory is that every movie has some sort of a ceiling or roof represented, it's because artists like to demonstrate that people are enclosed in their surrounding and that the pressures of life can be unbearable.
Old 12-19-07, 02:20 PM
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All movies have video, or audio. Lack of audio is still audio.
Old 12-19-07, 02:28 PM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
Lack of audio is still audio.
Yeah, okay. Whatever, John Cage...
Old 12-19-07, 02:36 PM
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Did you know that people breathe in every movie? True story.
Old 12-19-07, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Jacoby Ellsbury
300
apocalypto

Just guesses, Im thinking outdoor flicks.

something is drawn in the dirt in both of those movies
Old 12-19-07, 02:40 PM
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Are they still photos drawn in the dirt?
Old 12-19-07, 02:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Seantn
Are they still photos drawn in the dirt?

Doesn't matter, videos, billboards, all count. I'm sure the paint on the side of a barn would count if he needed it too.
Old 12-19-07, 02:58 PM
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Originally Posted by sundog
Yeah, okay. Whatever, John Cage...
Heh! Good one, sundog. And probably too hip for the room...

But the premise this guy (that the OP is referencing) is proposing is total bunk. I would guess that in the grand accumulation of every film ever made, probably fewer than 10% have actual photos or still images (even as he loosely defines the term) in them that aren't merely coincidental (ie - in the background) and are actually utilized purposefully in the film. Which after all, is what he is really arguing.

And his challenge to name a film in which the phenomenon doesn't occur is akin to asking to someone to name a film in which at least one person doesn't appear who is wearing a hat or some other kind of head covering. I personally can't think of one, but that is only because I haven't seen and/or flawlessly memorized the content of every film ever made, and it certainly doesn't give credence to the assertion.
Old 12-19-07, 03:01 PM
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It's been a while, but was there any kind of artwork in Quest for Fire?
Old 12-19-07, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by nodeerforamonth
Does Star Wars have any still photos?

Well we know they at least have them in the Lucasverse, otherwise what the F were they all posing for at the end of Jedi?



-Doc
Old 12-19-07, 03:12 PM
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"Always and never are words that shouldn't be used"
Old 12-19-07, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by devilshalo
It's been a while, but was there any kind of artwork in Quest for Fire?

Last edited by Count Dooku; 12-19-07 at 03:34 PM.
Old 12-19-07, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by MartinBlank
"Always and never are words that shouldn't be used"

That's what I always say.



-Doc
Old 12-19-07, 03:43 PM
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Originally Posted by JPRaup
Fuck me, now that's all I'm going to look for when watching movies.
to go along with looking for electrical outlets when viewing porn. Damn this site!
Old 12-19-07, 03:46 PM
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Originally Posted by chente
to go along with looking for electrical outlets when viewing porn. Damn this site!


I hesitate to even ask, but... explain please....



-Doc
Old 12-19-07, 03:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Jacoby Ellsbury
300
apocalypto

Just guesses, Im thinking outdoor flicks.
I agree with everyone that the theory is a bit bunk, but it still makes for some interesting discussion. No one has named or confirmed a film that doesn't feature still photos.

Apocalypto features Mayan paintings on the wall right before the sacrifice scene; so it contains stills.

I can't confirm 300.

Can anyone confirm Star Wars or 2001? I am pretty damn sure Star Wars contains no still photos.
Old 12-19-07, 03:57 PM
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I guess the place to start to try to find examples would be the various prehistoric movies, Clan of the Cave Bear, Quest for Fire, Caveman, One Million Years B.C., etc. Although if there's anything in the credits I guess that would count. After that I'd check on filmed plays with minimalist sets, movies with outdoor/wilderness settings, avant garde, animation, documentaries, instructional films, promotional/industrial, etc., other "fringe" things if no examples could be found in "mainstream" films (not a limitation that existed in the author's premise).

I've only read about it, but "Empire" by Andy Warhol would probably qualify if there's nothing in the credits. Don't know if this counts as a "film" though as it was apparently intended to be shown at museum exhibits.

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