Fourth Wall Breaks, Gaze, and the Feminine J’Accuse

Here's looking at you, audience.
Chewing Gum First Wall Break

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores the relationship between the gendered cinematic gaze and the rise of fourth-wall-breaking narrators.

A character addressing the audience directly is nothing new. On the stage, actors have been winking at the audience since (at least) ancient Greece, where the chorus would often occupy a privileged position in theatrical limbo, aware of both the audience and the unfolding story.

While the term metafiction was coined in 1970, characters being aware of their status as a subject being watched is nothing new. The same cannot be said of cinema, which is, relatively speaking, the new kid on the block.

Even so, examples of fourth wall breaking in movies go back at least as far as the early 20th Century. In 1918’s Men Who Have Made Love to Me (which is presently lost), Mary MacLane addresses the audience directly, staring straight down the barrel of the camera and enumerating her multiple love affairs.

Tempting as it may be to dismiss fourth wall breaks as “crass” or “unserious” (Enlightenment-era thinker Denis Diderot would be right there alongside you), the reality is that winking nods to the camera are actually fertile ground for feminist and psychoanalytic film theory. Jacques Lacan and Bell Hooks have entered the chat.

The essay below does a stellar job of untangling all the theoretical threads beneath the feminine fourth wall-breaking gaze. Enjoy, and don’t forget to look straight down the lens.

Watch “Fourth Wall Breaks & Gaze”

Who made this?

This video essay on how the female gaze is relevant to fourth wall breaks is by wit and folly, a.k.a. Ty, an American creator who focuses on mythical storytelling and feminine gaze media. Her work does a noble job of paying academic and critical care to media that might be otherwise dismissed. You can follow her on Twitter here. And you can subscribe to her on YouTube here.

More videos like this

Meg Shields: Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.