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.