Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Kuleshov Effect-film editing and perception

In reading Strangers at the Feast, by Jennifer Vanderbes, she discusses something called the Kuleshov Effect.  It has to do with context and editing, and how the placement of images can affect perception.  She explains it this way:  "Lev Kuleshov, a Russian filmaker, edited a short film using static images of an actor's face alternated with shots of a plate of soup, a girl at play, and a coffin.  After seeing the montage, audience members raved about the actor's varied emotional expressions-pensiveness, happiness, sorrow-when, in fact, the image of the actor was the same in all the shots.  Viewers created narratives based on merely the sequence of images..."

I thought this experiment was fascinating and did some research.  From one site, "Concerning emotional resonance in cinema the Kuleshov Effect is an important concept. It rests on the theory of montage and the effect that film editing has on evoking emotions from a viewer. It is not simply the content of a scene or the expression on the character's face, but the way in which images are cut together that can induce a feeling from the audience."
At another site, a more in-depth explanation, keeping in mind the name of the actor was Mozhukhin:
"The essence of the Kuleshov effect is filling in the blanks, or connecting the dots. Mozhukhin isn't actually looking at anything; he probably doesn't even know what they'll make him look at, so he can't possibly be reacting to it. He expresses no emotion, so an audience cannot possibly see emotion on his face, but the audience does. The viewer is presented with a situation or environment along with the academic fact that someone is experiencing it. He cannot simply accept the actor's evident emotion, as none is given, so he decides what the appropriate response would be and assigns it to the actor.

Now here's the real magic of it. The viewer dosn't realize the reaction is in his own mind. He assumes the actor shows it, but he can't see just how, so it seems like an almost magical projection of feeling by a brilliant actor. The viewer admires the actor's subtlety, and at the same time is more strongly affected by the scene. The character seems stoic, which at once impresses the viewer and lends weight to the emotion he does seem to display. In addition, the viewer wonders if others in the audience have caught the undercurrent, patting himself on the back for being so insightful. Backward as it may seem, the emotion of the scene is heightened in several different ways precisely because it is not being expressed at all.

This seems incredibly interesting, and I wonder if the same concept would apply to the editing and images used in the written word.  Could the placement of descriptive elements add to, or subtract from, the impact of a scene?  Could a writer frame specific words in a context that would change the perception, or increase the emotion that a reader imagines?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that you brought this up. I had not heard of the kuleshov effect before and I am now wondering how it can be exploited, as you mention, not only visually but from reading.