The Kuleshov Effect in Editing

Kuleshov Effect

The Kuleshov Effect in editing has been studied and used by some of the greatest filmmakers in history. Here's a short rundown on what it is and how it came about!

The Kuleshov Effect is a film editing technique demonstrated by Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s and 1920s.

Kuleshov set out to do two things:


  • Prove the effectiveness of skillful film editing and...
  • Explore an old psychological question using this experimental film editing technique.

Here's what his experiment consisted of...

Kuleshov's Experiment...

Kuleshov's Film Editing Experiment

Kuleshov set up his experiment this way...

He shot a single closeup of an actor sitting quietly-still without expression. He then inter-cut that shot with various other shots comprised of...

  • A woman in a coffin,
  • A bowl of soup and
  • A woman on a divan.

The audience's reaction was very interesting!

The shot he used of the actor was just one single long-duration close-up without expression or emotion... completely neutral but... reportedly the audience marveled at the "sensitivity of the actor's range of emotion."

Kuleshov's conclusion regarding film editing

* For Kuleshov... the overall conclusion he came away with from this experiment was that it was the editing of the film that overrode all other aspects of filmmaking making them "irreverent".

Kuleshov's film editing experiments also contributed heavily to the Soviet Montage Theory of filmmaking in the 1920's. This theory has influenced filmmakers all over the world for generations.

The Psychology of the Kuleshov Effect...

Psychologists have long debated whether an audience's intellectual or emotional reaction to a shot or scene in a film comes directly from what is being shown to them or... do they invest their own emotional reaction into the shot or the scene... even if the scene itself is passive or neutral?

Psychology of the Kuleshov Effect

The essence of the Kuleshov effect is that the individual viewer is...

"Filling in the blanks" or "connecting the dots" so to speak.

According to Kuleshov...the viewer doesn't realize the reaction is in his own mind. He assumes the actor shows it.

Kuleshov's reasoning was...

It is the context in which the subject of the shot or scene is shown that creates the effect on how the subject is perceived and understood by the viewer.

Lev KuleshovLev Kuleshov

It is interesting that this effect can also be created not only visually...

But also by using sound to influence the viewers emotional judgments or interpretations of the shot or scene that is being viewed.

The bottom line for Kuleshov was:

  • What is presented in the images is not nearly as important as how they are actually assembled and in what sequence they are presented to the audience.

Alfred Hitchcock on the Kuleshov Effect...

The above conclusion may or may not be true for all but... this technique has been used brilliantly by filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.


Alfred Hitchcock called it "Pure Editing " or "Pure Cinematics ". Here is the great filmmaker talking about the Kuleshov Effect... Home Page

Have fun...!  Dan

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