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Breaking the Fourth Wall

Breaking the Fourth Wall: Direct Address in the Cinema

Tom Brown
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Breaking the Fourth Wall
    Book Description:

    What happens when fictional characters acknowledge our 'presence' as film spectators? By virtue of its eccentricity and surprising frequency as a filmic device, direct address enables us to ask some fundamental questions of film theory, history and criticism and tackle, head-on, assumptions about the cinema as a medium. Brown provides a broad understanding of the role of direct address within fiction cinema, with focused analysis of its role in certain strands of avant-garde or experimental cinema, on the one hand, and popular genre traditions (musicals and comedies) on the other.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4426-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. List of figures
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. Preface
    (pp. x-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: direct address in film history, theory and criticism
    (pp. 1-21)

    A unifying theory of direct address is neither possible nor desirable; it is far too varied in its meanings and functions within film fictions. Neither is there the space in this study to offer anything remotely like a full account of its history. Many of the first films were documentaries, and many of their subjects acknowledged the camera; even the earliest fictions often involved direct address, and the device continues to crop up in feature productions around the world to this day. The book may prove more ‘comprehensive’ in offering a critical approach to the device; I openly favour certain...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Counter-looks: direct address and counter-cinema
    (pp. 22-40)

    Pascal Bonitzer’s essay, ‘The Two Looks’ (1977; my translation) is the most substantial published work on direct address.¹ His division of direct address in two suggested the broad schema that divides this from the next chapter: the idea that, on the one hand, there are looks at the audience that encourage a sense of proximity and, on the other, more ‘confrontational’ looks that exemplify the attitudes of ‘alternative’ film practices towards their viewers. While Bonitzer’s schema is less pertinent to the analysis of the mainstream,² his account merits close attention in relation to the category of ‘counter-cinema’.

    Bonitzer calls the...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Looks of invitation: comedic and musical direct address
    (pp. 41-77)

    Comedy is the most common, the most ‘natural’ home for direct address within mainstream cinema. Following, principally, the work of Deborah Thomas (2000) and Alex Clayton (2010),¹ I will discuss comedy as a ‘mode’ rather than as a genre per se. Thomas sees comedy and melodrama as the two dominant modes of Hollywood cinema (with ‘romance’ a significant inflection of each) and Clayton has offered a new definition of the comedic mode (‘since comedy is merely a genre in which the mode is dominant’ – 2010: 62). In line with the above schema, musicals are treated as a sub-strand of film...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Le Notti di Cabiria (1957)
    (pp. 78-116)

    At the edge of a cliff, robbed, abandoned, nearly killed by a man who had promised to marry her, Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) pulls herself up from the ground as if waking from a deep slumber. She picks up a bunch of flowers (flowers she had earlier gathered with the man) and begins to walk screen-left. A dissolve takes us to a shot of her continued movement left to right, back through the woodland that borders the cliff. Even away from the light (moonlight? dusk?) shining off the lake beneath the cliff, and within seemingly thick woodland, strong shadows are cast;...

  10. CHAPTER 5 High Fidelity (2000)
    (pp. 117-138)

    The surrounding chapters examine films in which declamation takes on profound thematic significance, and in which a moment or moments of direct address contribute to systematic explorations of the theatricalisation (in various senses) of romance. I wish also to consider an apparently matter-of-fact use of the device. With High Fidelity, we encounter a more recent film in which direct address plays a constant but seemingly casual role in the narration; the film’s hero, Rob (John Cusack), talks to us throughout, often speaking directly into the camera, sometimes addressing us via voiceover (a form of audience address related to the ‘direct’...

  11. CHAPTER 6 La Ronde (1950)
    (pp. 139-165)

    La Ronde was Ophuls’s first film in France after returning to Europe from Hollywood. It was his second adaptation of an Arthur Schnitzler play (the first being his 1933 filmed version of Liebelei). Schnitzler’s 1897 Reigen (often known as La Ronde, due, in part, to the success of Ophuls’s adaptation – Perkins 1982: 32) had scandalised the Viennese society whose sexual behaviour was the play’s focus. The play comprises ten interconnected episodes, each centring on a sexual encounter. Seen by some as an allegory for the transmission of syphilis through all strata of turn-of-the-century Viennese society (see Marcus in Schnitzler 1982:...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 166-178)

    This study has not attempted to address all the meanings and effects that direct address may produce in movie fictions (let alone begin to account for its role within a wide range of genres of actuality, television news being only one example), nor to give a comprehensive account of its cinematic history. Indeed, it has become increasingly clear to me that such an account would be impossible. When one begins to look for it, one sees direct address in many more films than one would expect and with much more varied functions than has been acknowledged. The meanings of each...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-184)
  14. Index
    (pp. 185-192)