Kuleshov, Lev Vladimirovich (1899–1970) By Eubanks, Ivan
Lev Kuleshov was a Soviet director and theorist who initiated the montage movement of the 1920s. He proclaimed editing to be the primary authorial act in filmmaking, because a montage could generate images that transcend the ontology of the constituent shots (i.e., such images exist only as the sum of sequential shots, and their referents may exist only within the film). This phenomenon, known as the “Kuleshov effect,” allowed the director to construct “artificial” or “creative landscapes” (imaginary places). Kuleshov asserted that the more nuanced aspects of acting result from editing, a claim he demonstrated in his Mozzhukhin Experiment. In this piece, which is lost, a shot of Ivan Mozzhukhin from an earlier film appeared repeatedly, followed each time by a different image such as a bowl of soup, a corpse, or a sensuous woman. In each instance the subsequent image should have caused the viewer to perceive a different emotion on the actor’s face. Although Kuleshov’s ideas formed the basis for Soviet cinema, and influenced such notable contemporaries as Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, and Vsevolod Pudovkin, his career declined in the 1930s following the advent of Socialist Realism and coinciding with a backlash against Formalism. Nevertheless, he was appointed the head of the Russian State Institute of Film in 1944, and received the Order of Lenin in 1967.