Understanding How Breaking the Fourth Wall Works in Film and TV
by eguaogie-eghosa Feb 04, 2022 Views (1.6K)

The inferred plane that marks the "edge" of the onstage action is referred to as the fourth wall. By acknowledging the presence of the audience, actors break the fourth wall.

Audiences may usually follow the action of a story from a distance in theatre productions, films, and television broadcasts. As voyeurs, viewers peer into fictitious worlds, observing characters from "beyond" the plot. Playwrights, screenwriters, and directors will occasionally upend this suspended reality by having characters speak directly to the audience. Breaking the fourth wall is referred to as this.

What Is the Fourth Wall, and Why Is It Important?

Every scene is contained by three walls in a conventional live theatre stage show set. The proscenium—the inferred plane that marks the "edge" of the onstage action—creates the illusion of the fourth wall in such a set. The audience is on the other side of the fourth wall. The fourth wall is where the camera stands in a Hollywood movie or TV show. The actors in a scene rarely acknowledge the camera or the audience; instead, they carry on as if the situation were real life, and they treat the missing wall as if it were present.

What Does It Mean to Dismantle the Fourth Wall?

When plays, TV shows, and movies break the fourth wall, they acknowledge the audience's presence and talk directly to them. The imaginary world gives way to the medium's literal reality when they do this: A troupe of performers performs in front of a live audience or a camera. The actors may emerge from their fictitious world and address the audience. When this occurs, the fourth wall is broken.

Why do filmmakers choose to break the fourth wall?

The fourth wall is rarely broken in movies or television shows, but when it does, the filmmaker usually has a specific goal in mind.

1. To provide scene commentary: Actors will occasionally turn and address the camera to provide comments on the story's developments. This tactic is nearly always used in comedy because such a direct address might read as ludicrous. Breaking the fourth wall jolts the audience out of a fictional universe, which can clash with the heightened tone of most dramas, thrillers, and action movies.

2. Breaking the fourth wall to allow a character to convey their inner monologue: A character may break the fourth wall to reveal their inner thoughts. Fiction films rarely attempt this since it disrupts the audience's suspension of disbelief. Documentary subjects—or even the filmmakers themselves—can, however, address the camera and speak for themselves in documentaries.

3. To emphasize the film's artificiality: Some directors seek to attract attention to the art form they're presenting, in the vein of Bertolt Brecht, a prominent German theatrical artist. Actors can realize they're in a work of fiction by breaking the fourth wall. This effectively brings the audience into the piece of art by highlighting the symbiotic link between the actor and the audience.

The Fourth Wall Is Broken in 6 Iconic Films

Breaking the fourth wall has been responsible for some of cinema's most iconic moments. Below are a few of the examples that stand out:

1. Horse Feathers (1932): This classic Marx Brothers picture continues the brothers' proud legacy of commenting on their films and the film business in general. Throughout the film, Groucho speaks directly to the audience, even warning them of upcoming dull scenes.

2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986): Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) tells his story of youthful delinquency and even sings into the camera in this classic John Hughes comedy.

3. Mel Brooks grew up watching Marx Brothers films, and in Spaceballs (1987), he goes beyond Groucho and company in terms of shattering the fourth wall. Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) watches a Spaceballs videotape in one scene. This acknowledgement of the film's status as a film serves as a subtly broken fourth wall. In other films, such as Blazing Saddles, Brooks shattered fourth walls as well.

4. Mike Myers, screenwriter and lead actor in Wayne's World (1992), turns to the camera in both episodes of the Wayne's World film series to remark on both the events unfolding in his character's life and the film itself, at one point even wondering if a better actor might be cast opposite him. (He has received his wish.)

5. Direct address is used in David Fincher's film Fight Club (1999). The main character, played by Edward Norton, begins the film by narrating about his friend Tyler Durden, but as the video proceeds, Norton simply addresses the camera directly. This has to do with important characters reveals at the film's climax.

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013): In this film, director Martin Scorsese chose to have Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Jordan Belfort, address the audience directly. Given that Belfort is a real person, this was especially audacious.

Film District UK is an award-winning and creative film and video production company in the UK. The company started operations in Dubai and Mumbai in 2010. Film District UK is a Video Production Company that specializes in video production, film production, corporate video production, promotional video production, commercial and music video production, live event video streaming, live event video production, virtual event video production, social media video production, testimonial video production and animated explainer video production.
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