Kuleshov Effect

Kuleshov Effect or How Hitchcock turned a kind gentleman to a dirty old man

Kuleshov Effect 

In the last Friday Fundas section I had covered one of the basic units of film grammar Reaction Shot. In this week’s Friday Fundas I am going to cover a related topic called as Kuleshov Effect.

Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov demonstrated a very powerful editing technique in cinema during the 1920s. His experiment involved shooting 4 different shots.

1. Face of an actor with a neutral expression

2. A bowl of soup

3. A dead girl in a coffin

4. A hot woman on a divan

Now he created three films out of these shots. In the first film he alternated between the face of the actor and the bowl of soup. In the second film he alternated between the face of the actor and the dead girl in the coffin. In the third film he alternated between the face of the actor and the hot woman on the divan. He now showed this to three different set of audience. The audience who watched the first film said he had an expression of hunger. The audience who watched the second film said he had an expression of grief. The audience who watched the third film said he had an expression of lust.  Many of them also complimented the acting performance of the actor. But in reality the expression of the character was the same shot. Kuleshov proved that audience when watching a film bring in their emotional reactions to the shot. This would mean that two unrelated shots in reality can be assembled together to create a new meaning. This is the power of editing in films.

An editor should be able to define the meaning the film wants to convey by arranging the shots in a specific order.

In one of his famous interviews Alfred Hitchcock explains the importance of Kuleshov’s effect. He calls it the pure technique of assembling the shots in cinema.

He shows the shot of him squinting, followed by a shot of a woman with a baby playing in the park. Then there is a shot of him smiling. He represents a kind gentleman who loves babies. Now he replaces the shot of the woman and the baby with a shot of a woman in a bikini. You see him squinting at something, then the woman in a bikini is shown and then the shot of him smiling is shown. The whole meaning of the scene changes now. He suddenly becomes a dirty old man.

Watch the video here.

Thus is the power of Kuleshov effect. The power of editing involves assembling of shots to evoke the desired emotions from the audience.

Isn’t it amazing that most of us emote the same way to a particular scene? The magic of cinema continues…

Related Articles: Reaction Shot  | Over the shoulder Shot | Types of Shots | Breaking the 4th Wall

9 thoughts on “Kuleshov Effect or How Hitchcock turned a kind gentleman to a dirty old man”

  1. This experiment proved that the emotional reaction audience bring to the screen plays a big role in making a movie engaging. The emotional connect of the audience to the scene definitely makes the acting convincing… but this does not mean if the actors are performing bad still the audience would enjoy it… 🙂 Editing can help the movie only to a certain extent…

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