Shot on location in Chicago, Ferris Bueller's Day Off breaks the fourth wall, but it's not the first film to do so
Many filmgoers think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the first movie to break the fourth wall, i.e., when a character looks at the camera and interacts with the viewer.
But narrative films as early as 1903, like The Great Train Robbery, use this device to engage with audiences, albeit not quite the same way.
For example, the medium close-up in The Great Train Robbery of the outlaw pointing his gun at the audience is not a part of the story.
(Fast-forward to the end of the video below to see what we mean. Or watch the whole film; it's worth a look!)
Unlike Ferris Bueller's ongoing conversations that guide us throughout his day off, the outlaw's gunfire in The Great Train Robbery has no bearing on the rest of the 12-minute silent movie. Instead, it serves as a warning of sorts.
Here's film historian Pamela Hutchinson on what The GreatTrain Robbery's final shot could mean:
"It's an especially violent act, both in real terms, and cinematic ones. [...] Placed at the opening of the film, it might act as a trailer for the shoot-'em-up action to come. As a coda, it’s a warning to the audience that it's a wild world out there, and the violence continues even after the train robber case has been closed."
Life comes at you fast. You've been warned.