Watch: In Charlie Kaufman’s Work, The Self Is Bottomless and Will Outlast You

Watch: In Charlie Kaufman’s Work, The Self Is Bottomless and Will Outlast You

A sense of poignant exhaustion runs through Charlie Kaufman’s stories. Not the bad kind of exhaustion, where you simply want to pass out, but the clear kind, in which you see only one thing in front of you, and that thing, that idea, that concept, becomes the entire world; the reason this idea becomes the entire world is that you’ve been thinking about it almost constantly. It may be a screenplay, such as the one Charlie Kaufman impales himself on in ‘Adaptation’; it may be an art project as big as the Ritz, as in ‘Synecdoche, New York’; it may be one’s memories, and the gulf before and after them, as in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’ Whatever it may be, all it does is drive you deeper inside yourself. Leigh Singer’s latest probing, soulful video essay for Fandor points up the loneliness at the heart of self-examination, even as it is essential. In Charlie Kaufman’s vision of the gaze into the self, we are all either running along a deserted wintry beach, like the two hapless guinea pigs in ‘Eternal Sunshine,’ or spat out on a New Jersey interstate, as in ‘Being John Malkovich.’

Watch: Studio Ghibli’s Heroines, and What They Have to Tell Us

Watch: Studio Ghibli’s Heroines, and What They Have to Tell Us

As the parent of a five-year-old girl, the relentless barrage of ‘Disney princess’ stuff targeted at her, from the films themselves to cuddly toys to the highly prized costumes, can be overwhelming. Snow White, Cinderella, ‘The Little Mermaid’’s Ariel, all have their charms, but, as most people would now acknowledge, these damsels-in-distress are hardly the most inspiring role models. And yes, times have changed, so that the likes of ‘Beauty and the Beast’’s Belle, Merida in Pixar’s ‘Brave’ or ‘Frozen’’s princess sisters, are a big evolutionary step up—even if the frocks remain pretty much the same.

However, for genuinely aspirational princesses, I’d bypass Magic Kingdom output altogether and head East: to the company whose 1997 film ‘Princess Mononoke’ introduces its lead female character, San, sucking blood from giant wolf’s bullet wound before glaring down its male hero; or whose most recent release, ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,’ features a young woman who refuses to submit to imperial demands of subservient marriage, just because it’s expected.

Japan’s Studio Ghibli has been making hugely successful, highly acclaimed animation centred on smart, independent, complex female characters for over 30 years. From wide-eyed children (‘My Neighbour Totoro,’ ‘Spirited Away’) to battle-hardened warriors (‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, ‘Princess Mononoke’), rare are the Ghibli films that don’t foreground women. And this isn’t just a fixation of the company’s two main directors and figureheads, Hayao Miyazaki (‘Mononoke’) and Isao Takahata (‘Kaguya’): other directors—the late Yoshifumi Kondō (‘Whisper of the Heart’) or Hiromasa Yonebayashi (‘Arrietty’)—have helped make this trope practically the house style.

Entire theses can—and doubtless have—been written on the repercussions of switching heroines for heroes. Certainly Ghibli films are far less caught up in the machismo of most Hollywood tales of derring-do. In ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service,’ a trainee witch’s biggest battle is establishing her broomstick-led courier company. There are no overt villains in the bucolic, gentle ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (my daughter’s all-time favourite movie), though several other films—’Spirited Away,’ ‘Mononoke,’ ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’—delight in their nuanced female antagonists. Ghibli is confident enough to move between rollicking adventure fantasies like ‘Castle in the Sky’ to more quotidian, intimate emotional stories like ‘Only Yesterday,’ varying narrative texture, tone and rhythm in ways practically unknown in mainstream Western animation.

Ghibli is also smart enough to realize that a “strong woman” isn’t limited to a kick-ass action heroine, the faddish template meant well but often haplessly shoehorned into revisionist versions of classic stories (see ‘The Lord of the Rings’’ Arwen or Tim Burton’s sword-wielding ‘Alice in Wonderland’). Ghibli female characters are brave and foolhardy, noble and spiteful, wise and naïve, hopelessly romantic and resolutely standoffish. In short, for all their 2D animation, they’re strong because they’re fully rounded and three-dimensional. They’re strong because they have agency. They’re strong because they truly matter in their stories.

As this video tribute seeks to show, there’s no better series of female characters to provide inspiration or aspiration for a young girl—or anyone, for that matter. Now if we could just start some San / Mononoke costumes trending—outfits absolutely not fit for a traditional princess – we’d really be ready to have a ball, and not just demurely go to one.

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, programmer and filmmaker.  He has written or made video essays on film for The Guardian, The Independent, BBC online, Dazed & Confused, Total Film, and others. You can reach him on Twitter @Leigh_Singer or at

Watch: Breaking the Fourth Wall in Film: The Sequel

Watch: Breaking the Fourth Wall in Film: The Sequel

A little over two years ago, I put together a video
compilation on 
Breaking the 4th
: a selection of movies that directly acknowledge the
watching audience by looking at or talking to them, or in some other way
demonstrating that they’re a fictional construct. It was my first ‘video essay’—I called it a ‘supercut’, which I’ve since learned kind of breaks down along
the serious-‘films’-vs.-frivolous-‘movies’ divide—and tentatively sent a link
to a critic I much admired, both for his written and video work, Matt Zoller

The response was more than I could’ve ever expected. Matt
not only expressed his enthusiasm for the piece, he promptly featured it on Press
Play, which he co-founded and ran at the time, and even wrote a generous accompanying
essay. This stellar support undoubtedly helped the video go viral, garnering
well over 200,000 views within days and being picked up by websites around the
world. I did various interviews about the video; a film studies teacher from Slovenia
asked to use it in one of his classes; and it connected me with talented and
prolific video essayists (Kevin B. Lee, Nelson Carvajal and others) and highly
respected film academics, notably Catherine Grant, founder of the great Film Studies for Free website and passionate audiovisual essay advocate; and Tom Brown, who’d been exploring this field under
the far more erudite title "Direct Address."

For me, these connections are a vital, integral part
of this kind of work. I’d asked for feedback, good or bad, along with other
examples of 4th Wall Movie Breaking that people enjoyed, almost as a
courtesy, and was blown away at how many people responded. Some clips—Eddie Murphy in Trading Places or The Big
—came up numerous times and were clips I knew, but just couldn’t
shoehorn into the original cut. Others—the spectacularly mulleted George
Clooney in Return of the Killer Tomatoes,
or early examples by all-time greats like Max Ophuls or Luis Bunuel—were
wonderful eye-openers.

So I resolved to make another video using all new
films and, if I used their suggestions, to credit those people who made the
effort to contribute. I guess it’s inspired by what the UK Guardian’s new
editor-in-chief Katharine Viner described in her influential 2013 ‘Rise of the Reader’ speech—a way to encourage
active participation and collaboration and redefine the relationship between
online author and audience.

That said, anyone who writes or makes videos for the
web knows the perils of the Comments sections. There’s an incredible amount of
casual vitriol (one original 4th Wall comment claimed “90%” of the
clips were invalid, the video “uneducates [sic] people” and signed off with “F***
you.”) that can be wearying. But the far more lasting revelation is just how
many people out there are looking to constructively engage and discuss. For all
its flaws, the Internet provides an unparalleled forum that, if harnessed
properly, is still so potent at breaking down walls, fourth or otherwise, and
finding new ways to truly connect.

April 2015

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

Watch: The POV Shot in Film, Part One (Leigh Singer’s Take)

Watch: The POV Shot in Film, Part One (Leigh Singer’s Take)

How do we quantify what happens when a film assumes the first person point of view, and instead of watching events unfold on camera, viewers become, in a sense, part of those events? Leigh Singer takes us through the varieties of experience possible with such POV shots in his latest video essay (which covers 74 films!). The first experience is a sense of dizziness, which can either be darkly funny, as it was in Being John Malkovich, or darkly jarring. The technique often occurs in films in which empathy is important: films as different as The Blair Witch Project or Reservoir Dogs depend upon our ability to identify with the person carrying the story to us, whether that story is presented as nonfiction or fiction. It may communicate power, in different forms: contrast the famous (in different ways) uses of first person POV in Robocop and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, both signalling the advent of disorder and mayhem, one disorder somewhat deserved, one disorder decidedly undeserved. It may be used to let us in on a voyeur’s discovery, as it does for the hero of Blue Velvet, as he spies on the horrors of the abusive relationship between a nightclub singer and a perverted small time criminal. And, then again, it may be done simply for what should be called, for lack of a better label, the "what if" factor: what if we could sit on the back of a bullet as it flew towards its destination, and then, having reached the destination, what if we went a little farther? In a sense, the use of the first person POV shot is the point at which film mingles with the other arts, whose purpose is, after all, to show us the beautiful wildness inside the human imagination: sublimated, glorified, alive.–Max Winter

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

VIDEO ESSAY: Slow Motion Movie Supercut

VIDEO ESSAY: Slow Motion Movie Supercut


If you grew up during the 1970s, and first came into
sentient moviegoer-ship during the 1980s, then one slow-motion scene
which probably dented your consciousness was the running scene at the beginning
of Chariots of Fire, showing the film’s
two heroes running down a beach to the tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch of a
much-imitated Vangelis soundtrack. The purpose of the slo-mo here turns out to
be one of the key purposes of this technique—to give dignity to an action whose
speed we might otherwise take for granted. The slow motion impresses upon us
the gravity of the movement, its meaning above and beyond mere movement. In the
same way, a director might present someone walking in slow motion to show,
somehow, that the character in question has hit his or her stride; the crooks
of Reservoir Dogs might be leaving brunch to go to work, in one sense, but the
work they are doing is sinister, however darkly and semi-comically confused it
might become after that brunch. Sometimes that slo-mo walk might simply show a
character who is at ease inside her own identity, as in the case of Gwyneth
Paltrow’s Margot, gliding towards her brother to Nico’s frail voice in The Royal Tenenbaums; unhappy as she may
be, she has full possession of her unhappiness. Motion may be slowed down to
draw out the tension of a scene like pulling, pulling, pulling on a rubber band, with the understanding that if
the scene were played in real time, the action might be too explosive for us to
bear—but also raising the question as to whether the motion is so much more
bearable in slowness. Think of the falling carriage in The Untouchables: step,
after step, after step, bullets flying, but achingly, achingly slowly… And yet what about the
cases in which slow motion seems to be presented for its own sake, to show us
the terrible beauty of things blown apart: glass windowpanes, buildings, cars,
even human heads? Or to show us what a bullet looks like as it flies to its
destination, or, as in the case of Wanted, is deflected by Angelina Jolie’s wrist?
Leigh Singer’s video shows us 113 different films featuring slow motion, dating
from 1936 to the present, demonstrating that, above all, the use of the
technique forces us to do what any film worth its salt should do: LOOK. Singer
wisely places a crucial, classic slo-mo scene near the piece’s very end: a shot
of the apes, the earliest human ancestors, pounding bone with bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick used
slow motion in this case for one reason, and one reason only, to make sure we
would not forget our history. And at this speed, who could, indeed, forget it?–Max Winter

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

Max Winter is the Editor of Press Play.

VIDEO ESSAY: The Coen Brothers: Men of Constant Sorrow

VIDEO ESSAY: The Coen Brothers: Men of Constant Sorrow

Woe be to you if you should be so unlucky as to be a male
character in a Coen Brothers film. You will be punched. You will be yanked off
moving trains. You will frequently be plagued either by melancholy or by
ethical torment. Things won’t go well for you. And often, you won’t be terribly
likable. Take the plight of Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo.
Could a terrible kidnapping plan have possibly gone any more poorly than this
one? But, at the same time, could there be a less amiable character? The
simpering, the crying, the sneakiness, the stammering–who could stand it? Or think of Tom Reagan of
Millers Crossing. He
perpetually tries to take control—of people, of his job, of his existence—and yet perpetually gets his
come-uppance, in grand style, sometimes quite bluntly. His moment of mercy
shown to Bernie Bernbaum in the forest, when he could take a shot, and doesn’t,
is repaid by punishment, like all the best good deeds. Does he invite this bad
luck? Sure, but don’t we all, sort of? Or consider Jeff Lebowski. Just consider
him, for a moment. The peeing on the rug? The ferret in the bathtub? The blow
to the head? All wholly unasked for, and yet delivered with a vengeance. But,
and this is the million-dollar (literally) question, by who? Or what? It’s been
tossed out that the Coen Brothers are, in some sense, religious—that,
especially as shown in A Serious Man, their films are about how we humans are,
in a sense, little more than plastic cowboy and soldier figurines being moved
around in someone or something’s deranged, Old-Testament-Style shadowbox, open to whatever hurricane or other unexpected blow from above might descend upon them. But
the opposite could also be asserted, that their films show what it is like to
live in a world without a G-d, without mercy—and that what might pass for
punishment in another view is simply the business of everyday life. How the men
of these films transact that business is entirely up to them. One would think
that Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old
was wholly in control of his destiny, being as he is a reptilian
sociopath—but even he likes a coin toss every now and then. True Grit? Same
story, in a sense: though the men in this film have intentionality, they’re wandering
through a terrain—the West—which is famously unpredictable, famously wild. And
they’re being led by a young woman a quarter their age. And, beyond that, the
Coens have constructed the script in such a way, with such faith to the
original dialogue, that one sometimes feels the characters, male and female
both, are at the mercy of the words coming out of their mouths. Leigh Singer’s beautiful piece places us right in the middle of the Coen dilemma, in a form so exhilarating you might forget how much despair is being depicted.–Max Winter

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

VIDEO ESSAY: Fast-Mo: Fast-Motion Sequences in Film

VIDEO ESSAY: Fast-Mo: Fast-Motion Sequences in Film

I remember, as a kid, watching The Three Stooges on TV and
always feeling a little baffled to see the Stooges springing
back up from the ground at a hyper-motion, cartoonish speed; these
singular fast-motion moments usually followed a bigger gag, like one of the
Stooges being set on fire or bitten by a large animal. Still, even as a
child, it was quietly unnerving to see human beings moving faster than they . . . should.
The fast forward motion was more acceptable in cartoons like Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner, for
example. In real life, however, people don’t move like that. But in film and
television, this fast motion effect has become more popular as years have
gone by—especially when one considers how prominent time-lapse photography has
become—so there must be an important reason for that.

In Leigh Singer’s dazzling new video, he explores the
visual rhetoric of the fast motion effect by grouping films together by shared themes and visual motifs. There are the pistol-slinging cowboys
of the Wild West in The Ballad of Cable
juxtaposed against the kinetic, gun-wielding rabble-rousers of Baz
Luhrmann’s updated Romeo + Juliet. Also,
there is the meta-grouping of film clips from Funny Games, Click and Caché. Each of those films visually
demonstrates the power of the fast-forward effect via an actual remote control. In Funny Games the remote control is used
to undo a fatal act, in Click it is used
as a time travel device, and in Caché it
is used as a plot-fueling investigative device to discover who has been sending
mysterious surveillance videotapes. (Note: what other video supercut
appropriately mixes an Adam Sandler comedy with a Michael Haneke film?) As
Singer’s video blazes (fast) forward to the tune of Gioachino Rossini’s
“William Tell” overture finale, it becomes clear that Singer is fascinated with
how silly we look when we’re depicted in this fast forward motion. If slow
motion dramatizes the moment, then fast motion injects a comic surge to the mise-en-scène.

Curiously enough, after a couple of viewings, I personally found the
video to be deceptively powerful in its implications of the way we process the
concept of time, especially with cinema. When speaking of the moving image in
cinema, film historian Ivor Montagu once said “No other medium can portray real
man in motion in his real surroundings.” The cinema itself is an art form that
manipulates time in more ways than one. For one thing, it freezes time: actors
are immortalized and live forever on movie screens big and small. Yet, at the
same time, it makes our perception of time decidedly pronounced. When we watch a movie, we’re subconsciously convinced that we’re seeing actions
happen in real time. But it’s not real time. The motion picture itself is
moving at a rate of 24 (or these days 30) frames per second; those are 24
captured moments—24 instances of actions or feelings that have already
happened. Still, this notion of time we won’t get back is remedied by
having at least captured some of it on film. Likewise, that fleeting concept of
speed, or the future even, is validated and realized by the fast-motion visual
effect. In our own lives, time is something we really can’t control; it passes
by with a relentless fervor. Therefore, the fast-motion effect is a
demonstration of tremendous power. If the cinema is our duplicate (or projected)
reality, then the fast motion effect represents our god-like ability to
manipulate time’s reality. It’s a unique opportunity. The kinetic speed of
the fast-motion effect is a universal touchstone; it transcends language and
culture barriers. It’s a visual representation of the voracious thirst driving life. It pushes us forward, even when we’re afraid to take that leap, because
in life, there is no rewind button.–Nelson Carvajal

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content
creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually
contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the
London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW
which boasts the tagline: “Liberating Independent Film And Video From A
Prehistoric Value System.” You can follow Nelson on Twitter

VIDEO ESSAY: Dragons in Movies

VIDEO ESSAY: Dragons in Movies

by Matthew Cheney

In Siegfried’s Death, the first part of Fritz Lang’s 1924 epic Die Nibelungen, Siegfried slays a dragon and bathes in its blood, making himself invincible (except for a spot of skin that was covered by a leaf). The dragon is a lizard-like creature, more dinosaur than mythic god. Siegfried’s triumph is the triumph of a human over the ancient, bestial powers of Nature; it is a short-lived triumph, though, for as the title of the episode states, Lang’s film is a story of death.

In confronting dragons, humans confront an ancient, alien Nature. Unlike the other popular fantasy figures these days—vampires and zombies—dragons are not transmuted humans, but rather something beyond us, other than us. Often, they are represented as deeply greedy, and this is their fatal flaw (e.g. Smaug in The Hobbit). They guard, hoard, and covet. Within most fantasy stories, they’re part of a medieval environment and their greed stands in contrast to the commons. The triumph of the little human against the dragon is a heroic reappropriation of resources and a signal of the human ability to triumph over the hoard of Nature—the dragon must die for civilization to advance. Sometimes, as with Die Nibelungen, that triumph and advancement is questioned, but most stories of good little warriors triumphing over inherently unknowable, evil dragons are stories of hard-won triumph, with nary a glance to the dark satanic mills ahead. The unspoken truth is that such dragons never die, but instead finds their revenge in human progress, their fire diffused through factory furnaces, their smoke blotting out the sky, as the smog of Smaug chokes and cancers the descendants of the triumphant hero.

And yet there is beauty and wonder in the figure of the dragon, particularly when the dragon flies. This is another dragon story, the story of the improbably lithe creature casting off gravity. Cinema loves to soar, and it is no surprise to see so many cinematic dragons shooting through the sky. In flight, the dragon gains a kind of freedom from the greed that holds it to a single place or particular hoard. Often, humans then can become not the enemies of dragons, but their riders—not equals, perhaps, but partners, a new force greater than either individual. As common as the story of the hero who defeats the dragon is the story of the rider who either tames it or is chosen. The elemental, alien forces of Nature can be turned into a tool and even, perhaps, a friend. The dragon’s power can be harnessed.

Power, indeed. There’s a certain industrial-warriorness to most dragons—flying, armor-scaled, fire-breathing dragons suggest the terror of early aerial warfare. (What is the Blitz but an attack of dragons?) In the sky, dragons move from being Nature to being Gods: the loving, helpful, or at least vaguely friendly God that is the dragon and its rider; the inscrutable, punishing God that is the fire-breather descending from the night. Unless tamed, this power must be destroyed. Controlled, it can be wielded.

As terrifying, elemental, and alien as they are, dragons are not always represented as nightmares. There are countless dragons for children, whether Puff or Pete’s. We seem to have a roughly equal number of scary/archetypal dragons as cute/cuddly dragons. There’s more than one way to tame, and train, your dragon. Taming nature, after all, sometimes just requires a kid to wield a lawn mower.

Because the dragon is so obviously Not Human, it can easily be misunderstood as evil, but sometimes dragons are, as Hagrid tells Harry Potter, just misunderstood. Sometimes, as Disney offered in 1941, they’re a Reluctant Dragon. And then there’s 1996’s Dragonheart, in which a dragonslayer and the last remaining dragon join forces. These are parables of tolerance, of overcoming animosities, of looking beyond the myths. We can learn to love and cherish dragons. We can come to see them as human. But the relationship is never equal. Taming them into our humanity, we dominate them, and, once again, win. (We must trick the scary dragons and tame the cute dragons. If we join forces, it is the dragon that must die, not the human hero.)

In cinema, the dragon must be an effect, its otherness unavoidable because it is a machine or an animation or a computer program rather than a person in a costume. Fritz Lang’s dragon was a giant puppet requiring a dozen operators to push and pull and twist and turn its mechanisms. The result only adds to the alien effect. The same is true of the stop-motion dragons of the mid-20th century films—no matter how careful and accomplished the motion, it is still clearly somehow off, and thus the dragon of ancient Nature is rendered unnatural, odd, scary, funny, wrong. The cute dragons get created in drawn animation so that their colors can be bright, their movement fluid. Their absolute otherness is made obvious, though, when, as in Pete’s Dragon, the dragon is drawn and the humans are live.

Regardless of the level of technical achievement—whether the primitive puppet-machine of Die Nibelungen or the advanced CGI of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—the dragon is always clearly not a human actor. The alien must stay alien. Even today, when the dragons have achieved unprecedented realism on the screen, their only human quality is their voice. Whatever the result of our encounter with the dragon, what we know is that it will not, it cannot, ever be us. No matter how close, the dragon will always be at a distance. No matter the here, the dragon must always be there.

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

Matthew Cheney’s work has been published by English Journal, One Story, Web Conjunctions, Strange Horizons,, Ideomancer, Pindeldyboz, Rain Taxi, Locus, The Internet Review of Science Fiction and SF Site, among other places, and he is the former series editor for Best American Fantasy. He is currently a student in the Ph.D. in Literature program at the University of New Hampshire.

VIDEO ESSAY: Breaking the Fourth Wall

VIDEO ESSAY: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Oh, hello there, reader.

I know why you’ve come. You’re here at Press Play to watch Leigh Singer’s awesome supercut of fourth-wall-breaking moments in cinema, aren’t you?

Yes, of course you are! Fess up. Don’t be shy. So saucy! Just look at you, with your bashful, “Oh, dearie me, I just popped over to see if anybody had a new piece up, and oh, look, eye candy, I guess I’ll stick around and watch a minute or two.” Very convincing! Are you a professional actor? A model, perhaps?


Come clean, now. Tell me what clips you expect to see. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Listmaking. Seeing if the filmmaker chose the moments you would have picked, and perhaps a few you didn’t know existed. You expect to see Anthony Perkins staring into the camera at the end of Psycho, his face a near-catatonic mask, yet oddly joyous. Or that moment in Annie Hall, maybe—Woody Allen producing Marshall McLuhan to silence a pretentious nimrod in line at the movies. Or the moment in Amelie when the heroine stops being enthralled by a movie just long enough to tell us, “I like turning round and looking at people’s faces the dark.” Or Ferris Bueller or Alfie smarting off. Or Groucho telling us that the obligatory musical number would be a great time to hit the concession stand.

What, too obvious? Too on-the-nose? Well, what about Malcolm McDowell doing his Alex the Droog death-stare in A Clockwork Orange, intercut with an homage to that same moment in the McDowell-starred crime thriller Gangster #1? Or Tyler Durden talking straight into the camera in Fight Club, cut together with Ingmar Bergman’s personality-merging psychodrama Persona? A bit more impressed, then, eh? I was, too. A clever one, this Singer. Very clever. You’ll like his work, I promise.

Don’t skip around, though. Watch the whole thing. There’s rhyme and reason to it, and poetry, and mad inspiration, and internal logic, dream logic… I’m rambling here, distracted, thinking about the music cue he lays down around the 6:00 mark, and smiling.

Oh, and be sure to stick around and watch the credits. They’re quite lengthy but filled with suggestions for further viewing. And there’s a little joke at the end.

Well, that’s it. What are you still reading this for? Press play and start watching!

–Matt Zoller Seitz