That Evocative Final Freeze Frame in Tootsie

The other evening, I was laid off on the couch, flicking through channels to see what I could find. I landed on that wonderful movie, 'Tootsie'. It was about half over or, in the optimist's version, there was about half of it left.

I stuck with it to the end, as I pretty much always do. It’s a favourite of mine, you see. I think it’s all about the timing. It’s a masterpiece of comic timing. So I hang in there, whenever it’s on, just to see it through.

The end titles started to run, as they do at the end and, rather surprisingly, I found myself feeling a bit moved, which is not my style at all. I suddenly started to feel as if this frothy comedy from way-back-when was something more than that, something more important.

Why was that?

I sat down and thought about it and this post is the result. I may go a little too far, at the end, I may not. Let’s just see where we go.

First and foremost, and as I've said already, it’s a great movie. It was back then and it still is now. And now here's the end credits and it’s over. Maybe that’s a good first reason to feel justifiably emotional. It’s a start at least.

Then there’s the song. Here’s a confession for you. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Stephen Bishop. Back in 1983, when I worked full time in The Stables bar in Sligo, we used to play his ‘Careless’ cassette tape in the back bar quite a bit. What can I say? It got in my head. At the end of Tootsie, Bishop sings ‘Something’s telling me it might be you, all of my life’ and, maybe even back then, it was just a wee bit touching. Maybe.

Then there’s the memories. When I first saw it, who I went with. I remember all of that. My pal Nuala was on a visit back from London where she had gone to live some months before. She was full of news about this great film she had seen and it had just arrived in my neck of the woods. She insisted I would love it and dragged me along to see it. She was right, as she so often was, then and now.

What else? The sheer quality of it. Like I said, the timing. Bill Murray’s ‘You slut’ line. The stammering revelation scene ‘deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply…’. Isn’t the goodness of it all enough to bring a tear to one’s eye, on your own couch late at night?

It’s all of these things, to some extent, but it’s none of them really.

I know what it is.

It’s the freeze frame at the end. That’s what it really is.

In that final scene, Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange, confront each other on a busy New York street. You remember, right? The timing, again, is wondrous to me. They reach an accord and walk off down the thoroughfare, getting smaller in among all the people on the crowded pavement. She bumps him with her hip and he falls away but immediately comes back up close to her like he simply can’t be kept away any more. And then the picture freezes as the titles and the song continue to run.

We could have watched them for longer, Jessica and Dustin, as they faded smaller and smaller into the distance, and we reckon that would have been nice, but the freeze frame is even better. It’s like a tiny golden moment in time, captured forever.

That’s the reason why it’s more ‘good for a tear’ now than it was then. It’s the passing of time. The film came out in ’82. It sometimes seems as if it were a mere moment ago yet it has actually been a full thirty three years. Next year it will be thirty four and so on and so on. The moment on the street remains there frozen in time. The fashions of the street people in the frame, once so contemporary, now start to seem of a different era. The two people who bumped each other fondly along the sidewalk have aged and gone on to other things yet here they still are, held forever in their moment in time. A reverse Dorian Gray moment.

It’s become an analogy for something, that freeze frame, a metaphor for something else, a microcosm of yet another thing. Time passes so quickly. Golden moments are retained by us as best we can and love, love is all there is, really. It’s all there is.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched it lying down. Perhaps too much blood flowed into my head and fed my already over-ripe imagination. Whatever the reason, 'Tootsie' seemed to speak to me of many things the other night but it made me smile too so that’s okay.

The frozen image at the end of the film, the one I’ve been talking about, cannot be found on the Internet. Not by me anyway. I wanted to use it as the photo for this post but I simply couldn’t find it. You can freeze it on a YouTube clip and screen grab it but the resulting quality does not do it justice. 

Perhaps it’s one of those things that works better deep in our heads as opposed to on a computer screen.

Something’s telling me that might be true.


Jim found the image for me. That's it on top. It may diffuse my closing sentence but I had to show it to you.


Karen Redman said...

Also one of my favourite films. It ticked all the boxes ... a good story, well written, well produced and directed and Dustin Hoffman's acting is always something to behold. It was moving without being mawkish.

Jim Murdoch said...

The only film I can think of that ends on a freeze frame like that is Jules and Jim and, so the legend goes, that was because Truffaut ran out of film. Not sure that’s necessarily true because he utilises freeze frames within the film itself. I think the point you’re making is an interesting one. Most of my memories consist of stills or very short clips as if my brain has looked at the raw footage and decided this is the moment that needs to be kept. And he makes odd choices. I cannot, for example, remember the first breasts I ever saw. I would’ve thought something as momentous as that (or disappointing—I forget) would’ve stuck with me. But no. I expect it did for a while but as time marches odd we edit further. When I think of Tootsie (and it’s not without some affection) what sticks with me is how much over the years I’ve wanted to be loved and cherished for being—and I use this term loosely—the real me. In the film Michael Dorsey gets what he thinks he wants by becoming a version of himself and I have too in the past. What we think we want and what it turns out we need are often very different things.

I’ve always thought ‘still life’ an odd term for a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter. I actually think the word ‘still’ is one of the most poetic of words. I just looked up the dictionary and there were twenty-three definitions, shades of definitions, of the word ‘still’. ‘Freeze frame’ is too technical, too cold if you’ll pardon the pun. The last moment of Tootsie shows two still people that stay with you still. They are still there, still in that moment still.