Tag Archives: Friday Fundas

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

Friday Fundas: Reaction Shot

Reaction Shot 

In this week’s Friday Fundas we would see one of the basic units of film grammar – Reaction Shot.

A Reaction shot is the one where the camera moves away from the main sequence to show the reaction of a character to the main sequence. It could be a response to a dialogue or an event in the preceding shot. Reaction shots are usually a medium close up shot.

The famous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a great example of a reaction shot. You see the killer approaching the shower and opening the screen. Immediately the next shot is the woman screaming and then the scene shifts back to the killer and proceeds from there. This might appear to be trivial. Now try to imagine the entire sequence without this single shot you would not feel connected to it.

Reaction Shot - Psycho

Reaction Shot – Psycho

The reaction shot is usually present in the shooting script. When the screenplay is written there would be no mention of the reaction shot but when the script is converted to a shooting script there would be mentions of reaction shot.

Usually this is determined by the director’s vision for the script.

Panchathanthiram
Panchathanthiram

In a comedy film the reaction shots play a very important role in making audience laugh. If you can think of comedy movies like Panchanthanthiram you would now be able to relate to some of the very effective reaction shots.

Usually the reaction shot occurs post the actual main shot. However many film makers have improvised on this to show a reaction shot before the actual main shot to make it more dramatic.

Jurassic Park - Reaction Shot
Jurassic Park – Reaction Shot

In the movie Jurassic Park as the crew is taken for the first tour around the Park they spot the huge herbivores walking around. Initially Spielberg shows the reaction of the people in the Jeep and then later shows the actual scene to which they are reacting to. This is the first time the audience see a full dinosaur in the movie and this just increases the anticipation and prepares the audience for something spectacular.

Few directors have omitted reaction shots on certain occasions to create a suspense that would be later revealed in the movie.

Sixth Sense Restaurant Scene
Sixth Sense Restaurant Scene

In the movie Sixth sense restaurant scene director Manoj Night Shyamalan does not show many reaction shots during the most part of the conversation Crowe’s wife’s face is not shown. Only later when she is signing the cheque her face is shown which works effectively to conceal the secret the climax would reveal later.

Whether reaction shots are present or not present they are very essential to the visuals. Effective use of it is elementary to an engaging movie.

Friday Fundas: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing

In this week’s Friday fundas we would see a popular technique used in screenwriting called foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a technique screen writers use in the screenplay that gives a hint or clue to the audience as to how the plot would unfold.  This is a very useful technique in preparing the audience for the upcoming events in the plot and when they occur it is convincing. In a good screenplay you always find a foreshadowing event placed in the first act or the beginning of the second act of the script (see 3 act structure for more information on three act structure).

Let us look at some examples of foreshadowing in popular movies

Avatar - Jake Sully runs out free
Avatar – Jake Sully runs out free

In the movie Avatar Jake Sully is shown running out of the base first time he is connected to the Avatar. Later in the movie he becomes part of the Na’vis and fights against the humans. You find this convincing as he is not connected to the mission and would do what he believes in.

Baasha Medical College scene
Baasha Medical College scene

In the Tamil blockbuster Baasha, there is a scene where Manickam played by Rajnikanth is negotiating for a medical seat for his sister. He tells his name is Manickam but he has another name… and after so muted dialogues you see the dean of the college very frightened of him. This is a very good pre-cursor for his past life which would be revealed in the second half. Imagine if this was not there and all of a sudden he becomes a don in second half it would not have been so convincing.

3 Idiots Pen Scene
3 Idiots – pen used in space

In the movie 3 Idiots there is a scene where in Virus is displaying a pen that can be used in the space and it has been given to him by his professor.  Rancho stuns him with a question as to why pencil was not used in space. Towards the end of the movie we see him giving this pen to Rancho and also explaining him the logical reason of why pencil was not used in space. This simple scene conveys how Rancho has become the best student ever for Virus. It is so effective due to the foreshadowing sequence in the beginning of the script.

Friday Funda: Parallel Cinema

Parallel Cinema 

Parallel Cinema is a term that refers to the film movement in India during the years 1940 to 1960 wherein new age of film makers emerged and they started to make movies which are very close to reality and not having typical Bollywood commercial entertainer which had all the song and dance. This movement was heavily inspired by Italian neorealism and French new wave movies. This originated mainly in the Bengali movies and then spread across to other Indian film industries.

Satyajit Ray is considered to be the father of parallel cinema. Before he took his first movie Pather Panchali he had assisted Italian film maker Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, French film maker Jean Nori’s The River. He said his first movie had a lot of influences from them. This was the birth of parallel cinema. Post this many able film makers started to make parallel cinema. Some of the prominent film makers of parallel Cinema are Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Basu Bhattacharya, John Abraham (director who made critically acclaimed Agraharathil Kazhuthai), Mrinal Sen, Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, Girish Kasaravalli, G. Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Karnad, J Mahendran, Balu Mahendra and many more. They redefined Indian Cinema and made it shine on global stage. It is during this time when many Indian movies became regular feature at prominent international film festivals like the Cannes. Also movies like Pyaasa by Guru Dutt still features as all-time top 100 movies in Time Magazines movie list. And rightly the period of 1940 – 1960 of Indian Cinema was considered to be the Golden Age for Indian Cinema. Many of these were commercial success as well.

It then prevailed very strongly till the early 90’s. State government used to fund a lot of parallel cinemas which was very encouraging. However post the 90’s the commercialization of cinemas became very prevalent. Production houses had to make commercial success to thrive in the economic conditions and the cost of making a movie started growing high. Thus we don’t see much of parallel cinema coming out as it used to. Hope the government starts another movement to let the artists express their view in pure artistic format thus giving us some gem of movies.

Today you can see many of these movies digitally restored free at http://www.cinemasofindia.com/. This is a great initiative by NFDC.

Friday Fundas: Breaking the 4th Wall

Breaking the 4th Wall 

4th Wall is an imaginary wall between the stage and the audience in a theatrical play. If a room is being shown then only the set has 3 walls and the 4th wall is the one through which the audience would see the play. The idea of 4th wall was made explicit by philosopher and critic Denis Diderot and spread in 19th-century theatre. This concept has now extended to movies as well.

Breaking the 4th Wall is a term referred to when the characters on the screen interact with the audience. This should not be confused with narration. One of the recent movies which had used this technique is Kadhalil Sodhapuvadhu Eppadi. The entire movie is handled in a way where the lead character is talking to the audience about the the love and breakup with his girlfriend.

Another example for breaking the 4th wall is from the Woody Allen’s Annie Hall

Watch the following opening sequence from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day off. This is another movie which broke the 4th wall and had the main character interact with the audience throughout the movie.

Breaking the 4th wall when used appropriately based on the demands of the script would engage the audience at a different level. However this may not be appropriate for all the movies. This technique is also often used in movies or TV shows targeted for kids.

There is a also an extension of the 4th wall concept which is termed as 5th wall. This is an imaginary wall that exists between the film critics and the film makers. This deals with the barriers in engagement with the film critics and the makers.