The Fourth wall is that invisible barrier that divides the audience from the film. It’s the reason why actors are never supposed to look directly at the screen or talk to the camera. The film is supposed to be happening independent of us, we are simply voyeurs.
But there’s an increasing number of films out there that break this wall, completely acknowledging the audience, letting us know that they know we are there. It’s a fun gag, and when used in the right kind of film can be quite funny.
Here are a few examples of films that do this:
Amelie (2001) – On this one Amelie constantly refers to the audience by talking directly at them, or just giving us a little look, to let us know that she knows were there. One scene has her inside of a movie theater, and she tells us how much she hates it when in old movies, actors drive without looking at the road.
Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) – On this one Austin Powers gets a lecture on time travel and suddenly gets cross eyed. Basil tells him: “I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself” and then Basil turns to the audience and says “That goes for you all too!” and Austin says “Yes.”
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) – On this, Bill and Teds first adventure, Rufus (played by George Carlin) gives Bill and Ted a new shinny electric guitar to each of them. You see, supposedly, Bill and Ted’s rock and roll will be so awesome, that it will bring peace and harmony to the universe. Unfortunately, when we hear Bill and Ted play their guitars, they suck. Rufus then turns at the audience and says “They do get better!”
Empire Records (1995) – The movie starts out with Lucas one of the crazy characters who works on the record store trying to decide what he is going to do with the money that the store made that day. Shall he deposit in the bank the next morning or should he gamble it away? He then talks to the camera and says: “In the immortal words of The Doors ‘The Time to hesitate is through’” After he gambles it and looses he looks at the camera and says: “I wonder if Ill be held responsible for this”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Ferris Bueller has to be one of the most famous examples of breaking the fourth wall. He does it all through out the film. Right from the very beginning of the film he begins talking directly at the audience giving us pointers as to how to fake out your parents if you want to play hooky. In one scene he is taking a shower and he covers our eyes so we don’t see him washing his privates.
Fight Club (1999) – Edward Norton’s “Jack” talks at the camera constantly through out the whole film. At one point, he is explaining to us how Tyler Durden was the guerrilla terrorist of the food service industry. He looks at the camera and says “he farted on the meringue, sneezed on braised endive and as for the cream of mushroom soup…” Then he pauses and Tyler Durden says “Go ahead. Tell ‘em” to which Jack says “You get the idea”
High Fidelity (2000) – John Cusack plays Rob, a music store owner frustrated with his love life. He is constantly talking to us about how terrible his life is and why things just aren’t working out. At one point, he is going crazy because his ex girlfriend has already moved in with someone called Ian. He is going crazy trying to figure out who this Ian guy is and screams “What Fucking Ian guy?!”
The Holy Mountain (1973) – There’s a scene in the film when the religious leader tells the camera to pull back and we can see film equipment and crew.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) – Jay and Silent Bob, the two main characters in this film are discussing the fact that there is going be a movie based on them at which point one of them says “A Jay and Silent Bob movie? Who’d pay to go see that?” and then they turn and look at the audience.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – This film has three girls singing most of the songs through out the whole movie. When they sing their songs they look directly at the camera.
The Meaning of Life (1983) – At one point in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life the movie reaches its middle point and suddenly the film stops and a character welcomes us “to the middle of the film”. When the movie ends she tells us: “Well, that’s the end of the film. And Now, here’s the meaning of life”
Scrooged (1988) – In Scrooged, when the film ends, Scrooge starts to sing Christmas carols with everyone in the film and he turns, looks at the camera and starts talking directly at the audience urging us to sing along.
Spaceballs (1987) – Mel Brooks loves breaking the fourth wall in his films. At one point in Spaceballs Dark Helmet is talking directly at the camera. The camera closes down on him as he speaks wondering who could have “jammed” his radar and he says “only ONE man would dare give me the raspberry! Lonestar!” and then the camera hits him on the face during the close up. Another scene has Dark Helmet killing a member of the filmmaking crew with his lightsaber.
Top Secret (1984) – The Zucker Brothers and Jim Abraham love breaking the fourth wall as well. It seems this gag works wonders in a slapstick film. In one scene, Val Kilmer is describing the plot of the film to his love interest and then she says “I know, it all sounds like some bad movie” then the two characters turn around and look at us.
Wayne’s World (1992) – Mike Myers is a huge fan of breaking the fourth wall and does it constantly through out many of his films. In Wayne’s World, Glen, the manage of Mikita’s Donut shop starts talking at the camera telling us some story and Wayne stops him dead on his tracks and says “What are you doing? Only Garth and I get to talk to the camera!”
Well, thats it for now! I might do another post on this in the future. For now, which ones can you remember?