Self reflexivity is the process of considering one’s role in an event or production. For filmmakers it involves thinking about the effect of production techniques and practices on the actual event or people that are being filmed.
Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (1986) by Ross McElwee is an example of a documentary filmmaker using his or her own desires, concerns, and presence to structure the film. In this film, McElwee turns a grant for a film on the effects of the General Sherman’s march through the American State of Georgia during the time of the American Civil war in a search for new personal contacts following a breakup with his girlfriend. The success of the film involves turning such inward reflection into a prism that actually enables the audience to see the world McElwee encounters with greater clarity.
Similarly, characters in fiction films are often written with self-reflexive tendency or moments as a means to draw the viewer into their world. An example of this is the constantly self-reflexive voice of Woody Allen in his films. As in the being of Manhattan, he tries different approaches seeing what descriptions fit his beloved Manhattan. This also sometimes involves breaking what is known as the “Forth Wall,” i.e. the implicit wall in a stage set that is absent so as to allow audiences to peer into the world of the film or play.
Bertolt Brecht, the German play write, termed this the Verfremdungseffekt Effect or v-effect. His use of the effect was intended to keep audience at a critical distance form the emotionality of the actors. Interestingly, the same effects are now often used to draw viewers into a scene, making an actor sympathetic. In the context of new media and the genre mixing of reality programs, game shows, and semi-scripted dramas, audiences are regularly made aware of the artifice involved in the production. Such shifts and reveals do not inherently create critical audiences nor do they are always engender sympathy or empathy. Nonetheless, self-reflexive techniques appear to have an appeal in and of themselves. Behind-the-Scenes glimpses and the on-going story lines of actors and actresses are part of an expanding media space, one that not has revealed an expansive new terrain behind the fourth wall.