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.

Subjective Realism in Sandrine Veysset’s Will it Snow for Christmas?

Will it Snow for Christmas? (1996)

The opening scene of Will it Snow for Christmas? is shot like a home movie. It begins with a handheld shot, filmed at the children’s’ eye level. The scene contains jerking movements, which replicates the rushing anarchy of children playing. Though the colours are saturated, the lighting of the scene is naturalistic. After an establishing shot, filmed from the perspective of the Father’s Truck – a fact we are not yet made aware of – we see a point of view shot from the children looking back towards the red truck. It then cuts back again to the fathers P.O.V, who again situates the viewer in the surroundings of the isolated farm – this isolation, introduced by the technique of loose framing, becomes a repeated motif. The continuity of the trucks continued voyage, between cuts to the children, is called Match on Action and is a traditional rule of continuity editing, which relates to spatial and temporal issues. These combined naturalistic techniques help to create an aesthetical sense of the real. This issue of the aesthetically real is combined with a concern to present normal diction and dialogue. The work of the farm is also represented as hard and the issue of immigration is treated as matter of fact. The use of exposition is characteristic of many films, and Will it Snow for Christmas? Is no different. It is this phase of the film that motifs are established; the irregularity of this film is that its aesthetics are more akin to documentary than other forms of French Cinema, such as the Heritage films, the Cinema du Look and French New Wave. 1.

The motif of the real is also encapsulated in the representation of time. The changing seasons bring corresponding activates and problems for the Mother and her Children. And in this way the story is represented as real through an episodic narrative, which moves along with simple cause and effect logic – a convention of most documentary films. The simplicity of seasonal change affecting the narrative ensures a sense of repetition is imbued in the films structure, along with a sense of the inevitable among the characters. We believe the films representation of life due to the seemingly logical procession of the seasons, but within this we also expect narrative closure with reference to the films title. As winter closes in we expect the narrative to change from an episodic collective into a neatly tied up ending, a closure of narrative found regularly in the nostalgia films of the 1980-90’s. 2. The last scene, where the mothers P.O.V shot shows the children enthusiastically playing in the snow, could be seen at a basic level as a tying up of narrative, the question in the title of the film is answered by its snowing on Christmas. In essence this ending is a continuation of the episodic nature of the film, all we were allowed to see before were episodes of experience, and the viewer can presume that as the seasons change again, the children, though older, will go through the same cycle every year.

1. Pramaggiore, M. & Wallis, T (Ed). Film a Critical Introduction, (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2007). PP 286-289

2. Lanzoni, R.F. French Cinema – From its Beginnings to the Present, (London: Continuum International Publishing 2004) PP 299-347


Character and the Hollywood Continuity System

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

As i mentioned in my post on The End of St. Petersburg (1927) Hollywood tends to concentrate on individuals rather than social or community-based forces as the engine for change and action. I have also mentioned here and there about the continuity system, which at all times hopes to ensure that the viewer identifies with, and understands, the motivations and nature of a central character. The Silence of the Lambs’  introductary scene is a clear indication of this form. The movie’s tagline ‘Clarice Starling, FBI. Brilliant. Vulnerable. Alone.’ is the exact concentration of what the continuity system has to communicate early to the viewer so that they can understand her character, motivations and conflicts. All of the characteristics (bar Vulnerable which is shown in the first scene with Hannibal) are instantly evident and are concentrated in a prolonged introductory first scene. Clarice is running alone, keeping time with herself, working hard beyond the call of duty. She is asked to see her superior for special assignment. Her loneliness and brilliance are both linked. This is proven as she walks into a lift. She is surrounded by people dressed in uniform red jumpers, she wears grey, she is an individual and alone amongst her peers. Her brilliance is proven by the use of a cut to her exiting the lift alone. Essentially the shot is symbolic of her reaching a level that none of her classmates reach. Again we are invited to infer that she is both alone and brilliant. We know she is FBI because she is training at their compound with the intent to graduate and we find out she is vulnerable later on with her meeting with Hannibal (and the use of Flashbacks to her childhood all centralized around her father). All important aspects of Clarice’s character are basically foregrounded in the first few scenes.

Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Soviet Montage Theory

The End of St. Petersburg (1927)

Vsevolod Pudovkin’s film The End of St. Petersburg was written for the tenth anniversary of the 1917 revolution. Pudovkin’s film adheres to the formalistic conventions of Soviet cinema, particularly the use of montage. Pudovkin’s film differs slightly by concentrating on several characters and their experiences through the years leading up to, and during, the Bolshevik revolution. In Classical Hollywood cinema the heroes tend to be individuals whose sheer force of will affects change, but in Soviet cinema, due to ideological difference, the masses are seen as the force that affects change.1 The proletariat replaces the traditional individual protagonist and the bourgeoisie replace the conventional antagonist.

The formal technique of montage is important in The End of St. Petersburg for creating politicized narrative. The film builds a narrative around the proletariat’s collective spirit, constructed through several different characters – most importantly the farmer, the factory worker and his wife. Vsevolod Pudovkin called his use of montage ‘relational editing’. Pudovkin explains, in his writing about film technique, that the form of film, and the style of editing, should be an instrument of expression.2 One instrument of expression that that Vsevolod used was what he called the technique of ‘parallelism’. In The End of St. Petersburg we are shown Russian soldiers who are running over the top of a muddy trench towards their death at the hand of a German machine gun. The shot cuts to a parallel of bourgeoisie men in suits rushing up stairs to get to a stock exchange. The bourgeoisie men, instead of encountering machine gun bullets, buy the stock from a company which produces shells for the Russian government. The edit creates a parallel between two different actions and spatial environments. The parallel montage technique therefore imbues the action of buying stock, and capitalism, with the violence and murder of the battlefield scene. Another parallel is made in the same scene; as the battlefield fills up with wounded and lifeless bodies, both Russian and German, the scene cuts to the stock exchange market rate rising along with with several bourgeoisie shaking violently – as if they were themselves manning the machine guns. The excited ecstatic movement becomes a stark somber parallel when set against the bloody stalemate of the battlefield scene, through the technique of parallelism we, the audience, are made aware of the brutality of the capitalist system which makes profit in murder and the destruction of a nation’s own people.

Where as Classic Hollywood film utilizes aesthetic similarities between shots to create a sense of reality the Soviet montage method exploits aesthetic and thematic differences to produce politically charged meaning. The images in The End of St. Petersburg are left somewhat open to the viewers’ interpretation however overall we are guided psychologically, by the technique of parallelism, into accepting the political ideology of the film.3 The method of psychological guidance means Pudovkin’s relational editing system technique is an important instrument in creating a politicized narrative.

1M, Pramaggiore and T, Wallis. (ed). Film A Critical Introduction, London: Laurence King Publishing, (2007) p. 225.

2Vsevolod Pudovkin ‘Film Technique’ in Gerald Mast & Marshall Cohen (ed), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1979) pp. 77-84 p.82.

3Pudovkin ‘Film Technique’ pp. 82-84