The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing (Full Documentary)

The Kuleshov Effect

(Source: Elements of Cinema)

In the dawn of the 20th century, cinema was a new art form, comprising many techniques that hadn’t been developed. And the ones that had had not been studied to the needed extension. The elements of editing were among them. Filmmakers knew that you could cut and splice the film strip, but they didn’t thoroughly comprehend the purposes of doing so.

 The Kuleshov Effect illustrates how the assembly of shots allows audiences to attach specific meaning or emotion to those shots. 

The Kuleshov Effect illustrates how the assembly of shots allows audiences to attach specific meaning or emotion to those shots. 

Lev Kuleshov, a Soviet filmmaker, was among the first to dissect the effects of juxtaposition. Through his experiments and research, Kuleshov discovered that depending on how shots are assembled the audience will attach a specific meaning or emotion to it.

In his experiment, Kuleshov cut an actor with shots of three different subjects: a hot plate of soup, a girl in a coffin, and a pretty woman lying in a couch. The footage of the actor was the same expressionless gaze. Yet the audience raved his performance, saying first he looked hungry, then sad, then lustful.

The Kuleshov Effect illustrates the power of editors as storyteller. The data gathered with the Kuleshov Experiment were heavily used by Russian filmmakers, especially in respect to the Soviet Montage.

This footage is the the first demonstration of montage. It changed the meaning of cinema and established editing as an art form and a key tool in the creation of the film.

"...the work of the actor was altered by means of montage. In this way, montage had a colossal influence on the effect of the material. It became apparent that it was possible to change the actor's work, his movements, his very behavior, in either one direction or another, through montage."

- Lev Kuleshov

In a 1964 interview for the show Telescope, Alfred Hitchcock called this technique “pure cinematics – the assembly of film.” Sir Hitchcock says that if a close-up of a man smiling is cut with a shot of a woman playing with a baby, the man is portrayed as “kindly” and “sympathetic.” By the same token, if the same shot of the smiling man is cut with a girl in a bikini, the man is portrayed as “dirty.”

More on the Kuleshov Effect...