Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1950’

The Fourth Wall

Posted by Admin on November 11, 2013

Thanks to philosopher, writer and art critic, Denis Diderot (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) the concept of the fourth wall became an integral part of 19th-century theater thanks to the growing realism in theater productions. The fourth wall put forth the idea that there was an imaginary boundary between fictional stage presentations and the audience. More and more often, breaking the fourth wall is happening in comic books and video games. Or as Russ Buchanan wrote, the fourth wallrepresents the willing suspension of disbelief and frame of mind that casts the audience as passive observers of the actors, who carry out the action pretending nobody’s watching.”

In other words, acknowledgement of the audience, or speaking directly to the audience is known as breaking the fourth wall. It’s not an aside. It’s not a soliloquy. It’s a break in the otherwise contained pseudo-reality happening on stage, in film, in comic books and in video games where the actor interacts directly with the audience.  In the movie “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” Matthew Broderick’s character, Ferris, breaks the fourth wall repeatedly as he addresses the audience throughout the movie.

On September 8, 2013 the South Wales Echo published a short article under “News, Opinion and Commentary” entitled, “TV Times Past.” The show in questions from TV times past was Moonlighting which ran from 1986 to 1989 and starred Cybill Shepherd and a young Bruce Willis just starting out in the industry. The article included this bit midway through the article:

Take, for example, the smouldering on-screen chemistry between Willis and co-star Cybill Shepherd, the wise-cracking scripts and such groundbreaking innovations as having characters break the fourth wall by talking into the camera to the folks at home.

In the Entertainment section of the Bryan Times on March 31, 1976, the editor chose to run with the story by UPI Television Writer, Joan Hanauer’s story entitled, “Helter Skelter Adapted From Manson Murders.” Her story spoke about the upcoming two-part CBS made-for-television movie which she labeled as the epitome of actuality drama.

The acting is uniformly excellent: George DiCenzo plays Bugliosi as a dedicated prosecutor, and who at times must speak directly to the audience, a novelty for many actors accustomed to the “fourth wall” concept of theater, in which the audience is presumed to be watching the action through an invisible or removed “fourth wall.”

Mention of the “fourth wall” is difficult to find in publications prior to the latter part of the 20th century. So how do we know that the term existed prior to this date? We know this thanks to the book by Denis Diderot entitled «Discours sur la poesie dramatique» and published in 1758 where he writes about theater, stating to the actors: “Imagine on the border between the scene and the spectators a big wall. Play as if the curtain was never opened.”

It became a favorite of Realist and Naturalist plays, as the play kept the audience safely concealed behind the fourth wall while at the same time, acknowledging them only when needed.

The concept was adapted by French actor, theatre manager, film director, author, and critic, André Antoine (31 January 1858 – 19 october 1943) for his naturalistic plays at the Théâtre Libre (founded in 1887). Unsure as to which wall was to be the fourth wall, he would have his sets built with all four walls and only decide afterwards which of the four walls was, indeed, the fourth wall … the one that needed to be removed from the scene.

Truth be told, however, technically the fourth wall has always been a part of staged performance art going back to Ancient Greece and beyond. It’s just that Denis Diderot formulated the concept and described it in more concrete wording.  But the fact that the word was used between italics in the 1976 newspaper review of the made-for-television movie, “Helter Skelter” indicates that the expression was a relatively new one for reporters and journalists at least.  As such, Idiomation pegs its use to the generation before and 1950.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Alive And Kicking

Posted by Admin on November 30, 2010

The phrase “alive and kicking” has had some interesting limelight time over the decades.  It’s been used as a film title for the Richard Harris movie in 1959 and as a Broadway title in 1950 for a musical revue and a pop song by Simple Minds in 1985 and an album title by Scottish rock band Nazareth in 2003 and more. 

In 1877, Benham & Harrison & J.B.  Harvey in collaboration with E. Durrant and Co published “The Tendring Hundred in the Olden Time: A Series of Sketches by J. Yelloly Watson, F.G.S.”  In the book, the following is written:

The result of this transaction was that the King’s favourite obtained a grant of the reversing of Lord Darcy’s estates, sold one-half to Lord Darcy’s son-in-law, kept half for another bargain, and put, meanwhile, £24,000 in his pocket.  But Lord Darcy was alive and kicking, and he afterwards himself found favour at Court, and was made Lord-Lieutenant of Essex, and on the 5th July, 1621, created Viscount Colchester, with remainder to the aforesaid Sir Thomas Savage, Baronet, of Rochsavage (who had married his eldest daughter) and their issue with a grant of £8 per annum out of the fee-farm rent of the town of Colchester.

In the 1850 book “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions” by Charles Mackay, he wrote:

After such prophets as they, the almanac-makers hardly deserve to be mentioned: no, not even the renowned Partridge, whose wonderful prognostications set all England agog in 1708, and whose death, at a time when he was still alive and kicking, was so pleasantly and satisfactorily proved by Isaac Bickerstaff.  The anti-climax would be too palpable, and they and their doings must be left uncommemorated.

That being said, the earliest published use of the phrase “alive and kicking” appeared in court documents in England that date back to 1801 wherein a crab-boy was reported to have said in a court of law:

I left them [the crabs] all alive and kicking, your honour, when I came to church.

While I couldn’t find an earlier reference to the phrase “alive and kicking” that the one in 1801, the fact that it was part of the vernacular wherein even crab-boys felt the court would understand what was meant by the phrase indicates that the phrase has been around much longer than just 200 or so years.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Picture Perfect

Posted by Admin on November 23, 2010

When something is exactly as it should be, it is said to be picture perfect. So how did this term come about?

Back on September 6, 1977, the Montreal Gazette ran a story about NASA’s Voyager 1 lift off in Florida.  The headline announced:  “Voyager’s Start Picture-Perfect” as the first paragraph trumpeted:  “Voyager 1 blasted off towards the outer planets yesterday in a near-flawless launch, joining its twin space probe Voyager 2 on a 675-million-mile journey to Jupiter and beyond.”

A generation before that, readers of the Milwaukee Journal back on May 18, 1950 were delighted to find a recipe for Picture Perfect Strawberry Preserves printed in their local newspaper.  The description under the headline read:  “The whole fruit with  natural color and flavor make these out of this world.”  All it took to make Picture Perfect Strawberry Preserves was 4 cups of strawberries, 4 cups of beet sugar and 1/2 cup of water plus a lot of attention paid to just 3 ingredients while cooking up those preserves.

And a generation before that, the Reading Eagle newspaper published an advertisement for the Glen-Gery Shale Brick Brick Home on March 28, 1926.  The description read:

When you build your brick home make it a thoroughbred — brick footings, walls, bearing partitions, chimneys, and fireplaces.  And surround it with harmony that makes the picture perfect — brick walks, brick drive, and brick garage.  Banish painting, repairing and that “wish I had” feeling that comes when it’s too late.  Look for the “100% Brick Home” sign before you buy.  Cost?  Not so much more than for any type of construction.  You can even build with brick at no extra cost.  Come in – let’s talk it over.

In the end, however, the term “picture perfect” was coined in America at the turn of the 20th century. As early as January 1909, the Atlanta Constitution newspaper ran a story in its ‘Savannah Social News’ column that read:

Exquisite decoration made the setting for the wedding picture perfect, quantities of lovely flowers being used in the adornment of the four rooms.

Of course, all of this can be traced back to those who, when arranging a room just so during Victorian Times when family photographs were oftentimes posed in the parlour, insisted that the room and the subjects be “perfect” for the “picture” hence the term “picture perfect.”

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »