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May 1992


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"Keith Nightenhelser, DePauw University" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 22 May 1992 11:22:00 EST
text/plain (37 lines)
The "fourth wall" violations in pop entertainment seem to me more
to reflect the influence of clowning, vaudeville, commedia dell'arte,
and ultimately folk humor traditions, rather than to achieve any
Brechtian effect.  Indeed these moments often create a form of
identification, by making the audience a participant in humor, or
the butt of the joke.
   Some other instances of "fourth wall violations" to consider
that occur to me: Aristophanes' comedy, where characters will look
out in the audience and make remarks like "Yes, there really are lots
of fornicators," and where the chorus, in the part of the play known
as the parabasis, will directly address the audience with advice from
the playwright about how to judge the play and how to run the city.
And second, how about the Marx Brothers?  Groucho especially directed
remarks to the audience, and sometimes even more, as in his parody
of O'Neill's _Strange Interlude_, which pops up for no particular
reason in _Animal Crackers_ (I think that's the one).  These violations
of the fourth wall seem to me to accomplish no distantiation at all.
Instead, it's as if there are comic "forces of nature" loose in the
world--Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and the Aristophanic heroes like
Strepsiades, Pisthetairos, etc.--and the audience sometimes is
welcomed into their activities by them.  This ain't Brechtian at all.
It's still illusionistic, it promotes (false and reassuring) ideas
of the restoration of order by working out conventional denouments,
the characters remain real--even across films and plays.  So it
does not seem a bit Brechtian to me.  (I think there are ways it
might fit Marcuse better, in providing a utopian alternative to
what's out in the audience's "real world.")
For something Brechtian, check out the films of Straub and Huillet
(_Not Reconciled_, _The Comedian, the Pimp and the Whore_, or their
masterpiece filming of Schoenberg's opera _Moses and Aron_.   This
opera is an unknown masterpiece of reflection on the relations between
politics and representation, and in their film Straub and Huillet
seek to present it in a Brechtian way.).
Keith Nightenhelser, DePauw University  ([log in to unmask])