Basic Film Techniques: The Kuleshov Effect

In order to proceed with basic film techniques I felt that a short exposition on the ‘Kuleshov effect’ was required. The ‘Kuleshov effect’ refers to the Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov who saw editing and film as an art form. He established a workshop to study the effect of editing on an individuals perception of the film as a whole. Kuleshov used the same expressionless face and gave different groups alternative images that followed the expressionless face. The mans expressionless face was remarked, by different groups, to have beamed with a smile at the sight of a baby and conversely to have filled with remorse and deep sorrow at the sight of a dead women. Even though the face was the same several different group saw different emotions due to the relational shots before and after the face. Kuleshov uncovered that ‘the meaning or a shot was determined not only by the material content of the shot, but also by its association with the preceding and succeeding shot’ (1.) This understanding of editing can clearly be seen in the Soviet montage technique.

Film, and editing, is exactly like language; in fact it is a language as it is a system of signs that produce meaning. For an image to produce a comprehensible meaning it must be understood in relation to or as opposed to something else: two shots connected produce a meaning that is greater than the sum parts. A face and a dead woman produce deep sorrow whereas on their own the meaning would be only slight. This ‘effect’ is the central principle in editing regardless of the type of film you are producing. [Even film that is said to be avant-garde will use editing principles of relating colours, images and cuts against each other to produce meaning. Most avant-garde films take this principle to its most extreme point possible]


(1.) M, Pramaggiore & T, Wallis. (ed), Film A Critical Introduction, London: Laurence King Publishing, (2007), p. 192.