THE KULESHOV EXPERIMENT

In getting ready for my workshop this weekend I came across one of the most famous experiments in film editing: Lev Kuleshov was a Russian filmmaker in the early 20th century and this brief little film explores one of the most important formal elements of  modern cinema. Watch it first:  (it’s silent) 

People have always marvelled at the depth and subtlety of the actor’s performance his ability to evoke hunger, despair and desire. And though he was a star of the Russian Cinema, Ivan Mozzhukin, here was performing nothing except a blank stare. The three images he sees – the soup, the child, the woman — were basically “found footage” intercut with Mozzhukin’s close-up. Get it? He wasn’t looking at anything except possibly the back wall or the cameraman’s head. It is the viewer who creates the relationship between the images and gives them meaning.

It always kills me though when somebody critiques a film and says “and the photography was gorgeous!” So what?  The photography is meaningless unless you’re talking about Cartier Bresson. Editing is the unseen engine of filmmaking; it’s not the shot but the sequence which determines the viewer’s response.

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2 responses to “THE KULESHOV EXPERIMENT

  1. I’m an educator by profession — I’ve taught English as a second/foreign language for many years, but also helped people (mostly kids) with literacy and first language development. One of the most intriguing and mind-shifting concepts to me in literacy and language acquisition was just this one: “It is the viewer who creates the relationship between the images and gives them meaning.” Replace the word “viewer” with “reader” up there and you have 20th and 21st century reading theory in a nutshell. I’m big on the idea that people construct their own meaning, and the Kuleshov experiment there is a great example of how that happens.

    I never thought about this before: “Editing is the unseen engine of filmmaking; it’s not the shot but the sequence which determines the viewer’s response.” As a wannabe writer (I know I have a fiction story in me somewhere), this makes a lot of sense in that craft, too. Reminds me about how a good plot is really necessary (and is the thing I really need the most right now…).

  2. So are you going to tell us about the workshop you did last (whenever) weekend?
    It would be nice to know a bit more for future workshops…ahem
    Yr a terrible tease you know…

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