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Watch: Breaking the Fourth Wall in Film: The Sequel

Watch: Breaking the Fourth Wall in Film: The Sequel

A little over two years ago, I put together a video
compilation on 
Breaking the 4th
Wall
: a selection of movies that directly acknowledge the
watching audience by looking at or talking to them, or in some other way
demonstrating that they’re a fictional construct. It was my first ‘video essay’—I called it a ‘supercut’, which I’ve since learned kind of breaks down along
the serious-‘films’-vs.-frivolous-‘movies’ divide—and tentatively sent a link
to a critic I much admired, both for his written and video work, Matt Zoller
Seitz. 

The response was more than I could’ve ever expected. Matt
not only expressed his enthusiasm for the piece, he promptly featured it on Press
Play, which he co-founded and ran at the time, and even wrote a generous accompanying
essay. This stellar support undoubtedly helped the video go viral, garnering
well over 200,000 views within days and being picked up by websites around the
world. I did various interviews about the video; a film studies teacher from Slovenia
asked to use it in one of his classes; and it connected me with talented and
prolific video essayists (Kevin B. Lee, Nelson Carvajal and others) and highly
respected film academics, notably Catherine Grant, founder of the great Film Studies for Free website and passionate audiovisual essay advocate; and Tom Brown, who’d been exploring this field under
the far more erudite title “Direct Address.”

For me, these connections are a vital, integral part
of this kind of work. I’d asked for feedback, good or bad, along with other
examples of 4th Wall Movie Breaking that people enjoyed, almost as a
courtesy, and was blown away at how many people responded. Some clips—Eddie Murphy in Trading Places or The Big
Lebowski
—came up numerous times and were clips I knew, but just couldn’t
shoehorn into the original cut. Others—the spectacularly mulleted George
Clooney in Return of the Killer Tomatoes,
or early examples by all-time greats like Max Ophuls or Luis Bunuel—were
wonderful eye-openers.

So I resolved to make another video using all new
films and, if I used their suggestions, to credit those people who made the
effort to contribute. I guess it’s inspired by what the UK Guardian’s new
editor-in-chief Katharine Viner described in her influential 2013 ‘Rise of the Reader’ speech—a way to encourage
active participation and collaboration and redefine the relationship between
online author and audience.

That said, anyone who writes or makes videos for the
web knows the perils of the Comments sections. There’s an incredible amount of
casual vitriol (one original 4th Wall comment claimed “90%” of the
clips were invalid, the video “uneducates [sic] people” and signed off with “F***
you.”) that can be wearying. But the far more lasting revelation is just how
many people out there are looking to constructively engage and discuss. For all
its flaws, the Internet provides an unparalleled forum that, if harnessed
properly, is still so potent at breaking down walls, fourth or otherwise, and
finding new ways to truly connect.

April 2015

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film, RogerEbert.com
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter
@Leigh_Singer.

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