I have no idea why I have such a fascination for this, or where it stems from. In fact I think the first time I was aware of it was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but other than thinking he’s talking to us I don’t think I thought too much of it. But now, there are moments that I think it’s clever, funny, quite recently sad, and sometimes so great it makes me cry… even on repeat viewings.
It isn’t always good, some people just appear to get it wrong, and others overuse it. Bizarrely though Deadpool doesn’t. Not least because I wouldn’t tell him if he was, but the context in which it’s used, and the fact that he breaks the fourth wall in a forth wall break, he just makes it work. I think it’s because it helps to show unhinged he is and that he appears to flit between talking to himself, and talking to us, and then the people around him, and you can’t always be sure whom it is that he’s addressing. Miranda however, who ironically uses it far less then Deadpool, did overuse it, and it used to wind me up a little. It maybe that it’s because it was being used to emphasise something funny that had just happened, that I didn’t like it. However, Fleabag got it just right, and the last episode had an example of fourth wall breakage the likes of which I have never seen. Something happened that she was ashamed about, and she couldn’t look at us. She glances up for a moment, but then has to look down. It was a superb piece of writing, an amazing performance, and just downright clever. Why should the interaction only be there when the character wants it to be. That break was silent, it was only a glance, and I think it is when a break is just a look that it is at it best;
The Bandit smiling directly into camera before wheel spinning away after hiding from a passing patrol car. Billy Ray Valentines glance whilst being told that the bacon in a BLT sandwich comes from pork belly. Ed Rooney- Actually, Ed Rooney wins at breaking the fourth wall in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In a film that is famed for the lead character talking straight to camera, and with two often quoted pieces of dialogue, the best break comes from someone who has set himself up as Ferris’ nemesis. He shows no sign at all that he knows he’s in a film (the only person at all that has acknowledged he audience is Ferris), he’s not been able to catch Ferris skiving, and been pretty much forced to accept a lift on the school bus whilst the credits roll. All the students are staring at him, this is the last place he wants to be, and then he looks down at one of the students books to see ‘Save Ferris,’ scrawled across the cover. What follows next is a look up to the camera that speaks volumes, whilst Ed says nothing at all. Before anything else can happen it cuts to black.
However. My all time favourite fourth wall break comes from a character who never speaks at all. This is the one that is so great, so funny, it makes me cry with laughter. And I think it’s because not only is the character not even human, but made of plasticine, that it makes it even better. It doesn’t make any sense, his eyes aren’t real, he can’t even see the camera. Also, he’s a dog. At the end of The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Gromit is battling with Phillip (the bad guys bulldog), in an aeroplane that was stolen from a fairground, whilst trying to get to Wallace. The aeroplane splutters to a halt, and we see the ‘Insert Coins’ light flashing red. Gromit checks his pockets, but doesn’t have the correct change, and then Phillip passes him the shovel he had previously being to trying to attack him with and pulls out an old lady purse. Holding it with both hands close to his chest, he open it and proceeds to look through it for the right coins. It’s at this point that Gromit then looks to the camera and raises his eyebrows. Phillip then finds the coin, inserts it into the slot, and the two continue their fight. I’m sure I shouldn’t find this as funny as I do, but then I do find I’m fascinated by some pretty odd things.
To be continued…