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Freeze Frame in Goodfellas like 'thought tracking' in theatre

by Michael Frierson

As the protagonist of the film, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) tells much of his story in voice over. Here, Scorsese uses a freeze frame to stop the film’s forward motion while Henry offers insight into the Mafia’s inner workings. The scene comes shortly after a group led by Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) executes a successful $6 million heist of the Luftans a. Jimmy begins to worry that some of the members of the group are flaunting their new found wealth, particularly Morrie (Chuck Low). Walking down the street with Henry, Jimmy asks a simple question: “Do you think Morrie tells his wife everything?” Henry answers “Morrie, him?” Then the film’s editors, James Kwei and Thelma Schoonmaker, freeze a frame of the pair midstride, and Henry comments in voice over, “That’s when I know Jimmy was going to whack Morrie. That’s how it happens. That’s how fast it takes for a guy to get whacked.” The freeze frame has been used at least since Alfred Hitchcock’s 1928 film Champagne, and in the 1960s, became something of a clichéd way to end a film, asking the audience to contemplate the film’s theme or the final moment of the character’s existence. Freeze frame endings are found in 400 Blows (Truffaut, 1959), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969), and The Color of Money (Scorsese, 1986) and extensively in the Seinfeld television series. Here, the freeze frame mirrors a theatre convention called “thought tracking,” where characters in theatre freeze and one or more characters reveal their inner thoughts, allowing the audience insight into hidden meanings that underlie the moment.

Freeze Frame in Goodfellas like 'thought tracking' in theatre

Scorsese uses a freeze frame to pause a moment in the film, so that a character can offer his observations on the moment.

from Goodfellas (1990)
Creator: Martin Scorsese
Distributor: Burbank, CA : Distributed by Warner Home Video
Posted by Michael Frierson