The Threepenny Opera

Breaking the Fourth Wall: Cinema and Brecht College

Cinema changed everything: This is an accepted statement, but it is also a cliché. At the same time, it cannot be overstated enough. When it comes to an experimental innovator such as Bertolt Brecht, however, the form of cinema transformed the tools through which Brecht could satirize German society. Cinema revolutionized the mediated depiction of the Threepenny Opera, which added layers of complexity to the alienating work since it deals so stridently with performance to begin with. Thus, cinema changed how Brecht was able to break the fourth wall, and although it offered him more freedom, the mediated distance between the audience and the film meant that the distancing paradigm for which he was so well known worked in two different layers. This essay considers these two different ways in which the advent of cinema fundamentally transformed Brecht’s project, offering new opportunities as well as challenges. Before analyzing the impact of cinema on Brecht’s message and goals, one must examine the means by which The Threepenny Opera breaks the fourth wall and the implications for this in the work’s original disposition as a text and as a dramaturgical production.

First, the script for the play opens with Peachum’s store of...

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