Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies. The heavenly elegance of their dance, the fluid, dancing-on-air genius of these two artists was captured for us on 35mm film back in 1935. Well, most of their dancing was captured. Not all of it.
Film is shot at 24 frames per second (fps). That means you see 24 discrete images every second when you’re looking at Top Hat or most other films. What you aren’t consciously seeing is the 24 tiny seams between those images. Our minds simply fill in the small gaps to make the motion appear to be seamless. 24 fps may appear to correspond to reality, but, at a running time of 101 minutes (like Top Hat), your eye is actually stitching together roughly 145,440 discrete frames.
Each frame is illuminated with a small burst of light lasting for around 40 milliseconds. When the frame rate of a movie is too low (think of the old silent movies that were shot at 18 fps), your mind will no longer see the movie as fluid. It will appear to jump.
Researchers recently discovered how many light flashes per second the human brain can discern as separate before they look like a steady beam. It turns out that life as we see it day-to-day is a movie running at around 60 frames per second.
Wow! Don’t blink.
But even when viewing a film shot at 24 fps, we miss a lot and forget even more. After three days we will retain about 65% of the visual content of a film, and far less of what we hear. Even at 24 frames per second, which is a little less that 1/2 the 60 fps that are zipping by us in daily life, we fail to register what is actually going on.
In fact, we don’t even have to try to ignore the spaces between the frames in a film or in life. It’s automatic – not to mention, it’s easier to keep up appearances that way.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. – Ferris Bueller
Ferris is right. Too much of my life is a blur. But there’s a lot of life lived out between the frames – in those private interstices where nobody sees except God. It’s in those imperceptible interruptions to our life film where character is truly formed rather than in the brightly illuminated frames that the public sees. That’s where character comes to light.
God puts a high priority on the brief space between the frames. Matthew 6:4 tells us that our giving and our praying should be in secret. Why? Because God, whom we cannot see, resides there, between the frames. And He sees.
Absolutely nothing escapes His penetrating gaze. Good or bad. No matter how brief.
Over the course of our life, let’s make it a goal to pay attention to the quality of life lived in the space between the frames. It will make heaven that much more special.
And speaking of heaven…