In Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden Depression-era housewife, who finds escapism in glamorous Hollywood movies. When she sees The Purple Rose Of Cairo (the film-within-the-film, Allen's parody of a 1930s high-society melodrama), one of its characters, Tom, breaks the fourth wall by stepping out of the screen and into the cinema.
Cecilia and Tom fall in love, though his fellow characters are left standing around on screen, unable to continue the film because Tom is missing. Though Cecilia recognises the impossibility of a real relationship with Tom, she ultimately returns to the short-term escapism of the movies, with Fred Astaire in Top Hat as her only consolation.
Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr was the first film to feature interaction between cinema audiences and fictional characters as a plot device. The idea was later ripped off by the critical and commercial flop Last Action Hero (and the Thai horror film Coming Soon). Allen played on the confusion between fantasy and reality in his Stardust Memories, with the actors commenting on their own performances; in Play It Again, Sam, Allen's character is visited by Humphrey Bogart as he appeared in Casablanca; and Allen's brilliantly acerbic Deconstructing Harry features characters from a novel who invade the life of the author, as does the recent film Stranger Than Fiction. Finally, Bruce La Bruce's Otto features a character who thinks she's a silent movie character, consequently appearing in black-and-white and speaking via inter-titles.