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Kuleshov effect

A Dictionary of Film Studies

Annette Kuhn,

Guy Westwell

Kuleshov effect 

The proposition that the meaning of any given film will derive from the juxtaposition of individual shots as a result of the editing process. While based at the State Film School in Moscow in the 1920s, Russian filmmaker and theorist Lev Kuleshov experimented with re-editing pre-existing films and film footage. He discovered that through careful editing a variety of responses to the same material could be elicited from the viewer. His best-known experiment consists of a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of actor Ivan Mozzhukhin is alternated with shots of a plate of soup, a young woman, and a little girl in a coffin. Even though the shot of Mozzhukhin was identical each time, it is claimed that viewers of the film expressed appreciation of Mozzhukhin's ability to convey the emotions of hunger, desire, and grief respectively. Kuleshov's experiments demonstrated how audiences understand the meaning of images differently depending on their sequential arrangement, suggesting that editing is the decisive factor and that acting is of lesser importance. Editing was declared to be foundational to film grammar, and this principle had a formative role in the development of the technique and theory of Soviet montage, including the use of non-professional actors. See also montage; soviet avant garde; ussr, film in the.

Further Reading:

Kuleshov, L.V. Kuleshov on Film: Writings by Lev Kuleshov, trans. Ronald Levaco, (1974).Find this resource:

Kovacs, Steven ‘Kuleshov's Aesthetics’, Film Quarterly, 3 (29), 34–40, (1976).Find this resource:

Tsivian, Yuri ‘Some Historical Footnotes to the Kuleshov Experiment’, in Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker (eds.), Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative 247–55, (1990).Find this resource: