Consider the Screenshot: Image-Capture and Our Relationship to Movies

Admit it: we all have a folder on our desktop containing a mountain of screengrabs.

By Meg Shields · Published on October 27th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on what the practice of screenshotting can teach us about how we watch movies.


Oh, what? So we’re just going to pretend like we all don’t have a folder on our desktop of screenshots of James Bond sneaking into places while disguised as various animals? Or a folder of screenshots documenting Nicole Kidman’s career-long wig journey? Come on, admit it. There’s nothing wrong with taking a screenshot when the urge moves you. After all, for the vast majority of film’s history being able to capture individual frames of the moving image was no easy feat!

For a long time, if you wanted a still image of a film, you had to blow up an actual frame of the print. Or you had to find some way of pausing and photographing the film with a separate, analog device. Publicity stills gave the illusion of film frames, but they’re typically staged photographs and often inauthentic to what actually transpires on-screen. These days capturing an image of a film is as easy as the press of a button. Well, several buttons. In sequence. You get the idea.

The video essay below looks to frame the practice of screenshotting movies in an admirably intellectual light. It is, the essay argues, the cinematic equivalent of highlighting evocative sentences in a book, underlining compelling ideas so that you can do something with them at a later date. A screenshot is potential material to work with. Maybe that just means holding onto frames for future amusing Tweets. Or maybe there’s something more to the impulse of capturing frames, a pull that compels us to want to grab ahold and possess specific artistic moments.

Watch “Practices of Viewing: Screenshot”:


Who made this?

This video essay on screenshots and the cinematic experience is by Dr. Johannes Binotto. Dr. Binotto is a researcher and film scholar, presently teaching at the Lucerne School of Art and Design and the University of Zurich. You can check out more of Dr. Binotto’s work on his personal website and you can follow him on Vimeo here.

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Related Topics: The Queue

Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).

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