I was reading a chapter in a film textbook the other day about editing, and I found great interest in the Kuleshov effect. I was familiar with the term already but I had never read anything which properly explained it’s origins or full parameters to me. It was enticing and enlightening to discover all this I hadn’t known of the Kuleshov effect. For instance, I didn’t know that the Kuleshov effect could be used so effectively to combine footage from various sources, including other films or stock footage.
This means I’ve been exposed to a quite extreme brand of the Kuleshov effect since I was very young and watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That show implemented the Kuleshov effect constantly and consistently. It was used in their case for extreme comedic effect. They would contrast the shot of a man reacting with say… an exploding house which they clearly didn’t film themselves. Or perhaps most famously they would use a stock footage roll of old women sitting in an audience and clapping with a visible clamor. This shot was cut in to their show a ridiculous number of times. Its exact use and intention changed every occurrence. However, the overarching reason to use it seemed to be that it provided a comically fake reaction to a comically bad joke. They would purposefully set up a joke or bit to fail and then support themselves with stock footage so as to reinforce the idea that it was a joke not worthy of genuine applause. The entire effect of this being that the self-indulgent folly makes for its own source of humor.
Besides my own film-viewing past, I discovered the Kuleshov effect within my filmmaking present. I was cutting a scene together from my most recent film the other day. You see there are two shots here with the actors Annie and Mario reacting to first the other actor in the scene (Bassam), and then to one another. Without once showing a wide, this conveys where everyone lies within the space by how their eye-lines pair up for that split second.
First Mario isn’t looking at Annie. Then he looks at her. On the eye move, we cut to Annie’s shot where she is looking at Bassam still. When she looks up we see that her and Mario are looking at one another. This suggests to the viewer that Mario is faced away from Bassam while Annie is facing towards him.
What really blows my mind about this? It wasn’t planned. In these separate takes, both of the actors happened to make these looks to one another but never at the same time. It just was something I noticed whilst going through both of their takes. I’m very happy with it because by using this Kuleshov effect it allows us to build a relationship between these two through their eyes. Never once do we hear what they are thinking but juxtaposed against each other and against Bassam, we see all we need.