For filmmakers, allowing characters break the fourth wall and directly communicate with the audience can be a powerful tool to solidify the story’s themes while letting the viewer further empathize with the characters, whether they’d like to (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) or not (“Funny Games”). It can also be a dangerous choice, and perhaps should only be used by seasoned professionals, since in the wrong hands it can snap you out of the flow of the piece by reminding them that they are indeed participating in fiction.
Vimeo user Jacob T. Swinney put together a tribute to characters across the history of film breaking the fourth wall in order to bridge the cognitive gap between them and the audience. Even though Swinney doesn’t use this writer’s favorite fourth wall break—Giulietta Masina humbly smiling and nodding at the audience, as if thanking them for witnessing her meager story, right before the image fades out of Fellini’s underrated masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria”—there’s still a lot to admire here.
Swinney’s match cuts between famous shots and identical ones that were inspired by them—such as the man shooting at the camera in “The Great Train Robbery” following its homage from “Goodfellas”— represent the high points of the montage.
There may also be a bit of a controversy with some of the shot selections. If a character looks directly into the lens when the shot represents the POV of another character, does that still count as breaking the fourth wall? In that case, they don’t break the flow of the story in order to communicate directly to the viewer, he or she is simply addressing the POV character. Does Anthony Hopkins delivering his infamous “Bottle of Chianti” line to Jodie Foster count as a legitimate attempt at breaking the fourth wall? As Linda Richman would say, “Talk amongst yourselves.” And if you like the below, check out a similar video at Press Play. [35 MM]