• Rudraroop Sen Gupta

The Experiment that changed Cinema forever

Updated: Jan 13

The great Russian filmmaker and film theorist Lev Kuleshov is considered among one of the pioneers of the modern film editing along with fellow Russian filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

Eisenstein is considered as the father of the Montage theory and his films specially the 1925 silent masterpiece "Battleship Potemkin" is still considered a landmark in film editing. While, Pudovkin introduced the world to Structural Editing which is famously known as the Five points of Editing.

Kuleshov tried out an experiment in film editing, which became the basic foundation of the "Montage theory", where Kuleshov edited a short film in which a shot of the "expressionless" face of Russian Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mesjoukine was simultaneously shown with various other shots like :-

i) A bowl of soup

ii) A girl in a coffin

iii) A girl on a divan

Reaction of the Audience

The audience believed the expression on the face of Mosjoukine changed with every shot, depending on what he was looking at.

i) Reaction of audience for The bowl of soup shot
When his face was shown after the bowl of soup, the audience derived by their own that Mosjoukine's face looks hungry as he is "looking at" the bowl of soup.
ii) Reaction of audience for Girl in the coffin shot
When his face was shown after the girl in the coffin, the audience concluded that the face seems sad or with grief
iii) Reaction of audience for Woman on the divan shot

Here, the audience derived that the face looked with desire when simultaneous shots of the face and a woman on the divan was shown.


The conclusion that Kuleshov derived from the experiment was how the audience brought their own emotions and reactions which they then associated to the character's reaction. However, in truth the actor's face has the same expression (which was an expressionless face) was used for all the three cases.

Before this experiment for almost 20 years (1890s to 1910s) cinema was either mostly single shots like the Lumiere brother's films of the "Arrival of Train" and "The workers coming out of the factory gate" or films of George Melies or films like "The Great Train Robbery" and D.w Grifith's "The Birth of a Nation", where shots were just put one after another without capturing any detail or emotions of the moment. These were the years The Birth of Cinema was taking place.

However, Kuleshov believed that montage has the power to build cinema as an independent form of art, and this was one of the most significant incident in the history of film editing.

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