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'Breaking the Fourth Wall' From Shakespeare To The Office To Leigh Singer [Video]

The "Fourth Wall' is a theatrical term for the imaginary wall that exists between actors and their audiences. Originating from Ancient Greek theater, while the open-box arena of a theater stage makes up three walls, theater-goers are seen as the fourth wall. "Breaking the fourth wall" is considered a technique of metafiction, as it penetrates the boundaries normally set up by works of fiction by reaching out to the audience.

Artists draw direct attention from the audience for dramatic or comedic effect when they purposely cross that invisible boundary. Differing from soliloquies, where actors deliver reflective monologues (as if talking to oneself), actors in Shakepeare's day would often be found running throughout the audience (often chasing other actors onto the stage), interacting and engaging with the patrons personally along the way, and sometimes even sitting in their laps or requesting them to hide an essential prop as a plot device.

While TV examples of the fourth wall abound, from "Scrubs" to "Modern Family," no TV comedy has done it with such consistency as "The Office." Seen as a mockumentary,  the cast members acknowledge the cameras throughout each 30-minute episode as if their every move is being documented for posterity. So much so, that this year, for the first time in the episode titled, 'Customer Loyalty' (Season 9, Episode 12), after a fight with Jim over the phone, Pam breaks down and is actually consoled by the by one of crew technicians on set.

Leigh SingerLeigh SingerWhen film journalist Leigh Singer and his creative work with video essays led him to the fourth wall, he saw it as opportunity to present a compilation of movie images that viewers could relate to. "I suppose it's about trying to express your ideas and creativity and finding a platform on which to share them," noted Singer in an interview I conducted with him today.

Singer's take on the fourth wall is that "it treading the line between immersion and alienation (where) it's a tough balance. If you do it wrong you risk breaking the spell you're trying to cast, or repelling your audience - but if you do it well, it can actually enhance the viewing experience."

The results of his research  culminated in a cleverly-edited montage of 54 different films, "from perhaps the very first example of breaking the fourth wall right up to today," say Singer. See which flicks out of this grouping bring back fond memories for you.


Singer's "Breaking the 4th Wall Movie Supercut" can be found on Vimeo and YouTube.



While the YouTube vid was just uploaded, the Vimeo debut version has logged over 108K play views (as of this posting) in just a week's time.

From Malcom McDowell's masked deranged stare in Clockwork Orange, to Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden bludgeoned look in Fight Club to Anthony Perkins' catatonic grin at the end of Psycho, this 8:36 minute mash-up ends with the classic Ferris Bueller line that popped up just as the credits were concluding. How appropriate for a fourth wall closer!