Kuleshov, Lev

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Nationality: Soviet. Born: Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov in Tambov, Russia, 14 January 1899. Education: Studied painting at Fine Arts School, Moscow, 1914–16. Family: Married to actress Alexandra Khokhlova. Career: Set designer for director Evgeni Bauer, from 1916, also began experiments with editing; first theoretical article published, 1918; helped found first National Film School, 1919, teacher from 1920; made short agitki and formed film workshop, 1919–21; temporarily stopped filmmaking, 1933; director of State Institute of Cinematography, Moscow, from 1944. Awards: Merited Artist of the RSFSR, 1935. Died: 29 March 1970.

Films as Director:


Proyekt inzhenera Praita (Engineer Prite's Project) (+ art d)


The Unfinished Love Song (co-d, art d); Newsreels: Vskrytiye moshchei Sergiya Radonezhskogo (The Exhumation ofthe Holy Remains of St. Sergius of Radonezh) (co-d); ReviziyaVTiSK v Tverskoi Gubernii (The VTiSK Inspection in theTver Province); Ural (+ sc); Pervoye maya 1920 v Moskve (May 1, 1920 in Moscow)


Na krasnom fronte (On the Red Front) (+ sc, role)


Kavkazskiye mineralniye vody (Mineral Waters of the Caucasus); Neobychainye priklucheniya Mistera Vesta v stranye bolshevikov (The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West inthe Land of the Bolsheviks) (+ art d)


Luch smerti (Death Ray) (+ role)


Po zakonu (By the Law)


Vasha znakomaya (Your Acquaintance)


Vesyolaya kanareika (The Happy Canary); Dva-Buldi-Dva (The Two Buldis) (co-d); Parovoz B-1000 (Locomotive No.B-1000) (unreleased)


Sorok serdets (Forty Hearts)


Gorizont (Horizon) (+ co-sc); Velikii uteshitel (The GreatConsoler) (+ co-sc, art d)


Dokhunda (unreleased)


Sibiriaki (The Siberians)


Klyatva Timura (Timur's Oath); Uchitelnitsa Kartashova (The Teacher Kartashova) (unreleased)


My s Urala (We Are from the Urals) (co-d)

Other Films:


Nabat (The Alarm) (Bauer) (co-art d); Za schastyem (ForHappiness) (Bauer) (art d, role); Teni lyubvi (Shadows ofLove) (Gromov) (art d); Zhizn'trekh dnei (Three Days'Life) (Gromov) (art d); Korol' Parizha (King of Paris) (Bauer and Rakhmanova) (art d); Chernaya lyubov (BlackKing) (Strizhevsky) (art d, role)


Vdova (The Widow) (Komissarzhevsky) (art d); Miss Meri (Miss Mary) (Tchaikovsky) (art d); Slyakot' bulvarnaya (Boulevard Slush) (Tchaikovsky) (art d)


Thérèse Raquin (Tchaikovsky) (art d) (unreleased); Son Tarasa (Taras' Dream) (Zhelyabuzhsky) (short) (ed); Smelchak (Daredevil) (Narakov and Turkin) (co-ed)


Sasha (Khokhlova) (co-sc)


Krazha zreniya (Theft of Sight) (Obolensky) (artistic supervisor)


Sluchai v vulkane (Incident in a Volcano) (Schneider) (directorial advisor)


By KULESHOV: books—

Eisenstein: Potiemkine, with V. Shlovsky and E. Tisse, Moscow, 1926.

The Art of Cinema [in Russian], Moscow, 1929.

Fundamentals of Film Direction [in Russian], Moscow, 1941.

Traité de mise-en-scène. Les Premières Prises de vues, Paris, 1962.

Kuleshov on Film, edited by Ronald Levaco, Berkeley, 1974.

Lev Kuleshov. Selected Works: Fifty Years in Films, edited by E. Khokhlova, Moscow, 1987.

Sobranie sochinenii v trekh tomakh [Collected Works in Three Volumes], Moscow, 1987–89.

By KULESHOV: articles—

Interview with André Labarthe and Bertrand Tavernier, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), May/June 1970.

"Souvenirs (1918–1920)," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July 1970.

"Selections from Art of the Cinema," in Screen (London), Win-ter 1971/72.

On KULESHOV: books—

Leyda, Jay, Kino, London, 1960.

Taylor, Richard, and Ian Christie, editors, The Film Factory: Russianand Soviet Cinema in Documents, 1896–1939, London and Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988.

On KULESHOV: articles—

Sadoul, Georges, "Au début du cinéma soviétique était Lev Koulechov. Portrait d'un ami," in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 18 October 1962.

Sadoul, Georges, "Lev Koulechov grand théoreticien du cinéma," in Le Techicien du Film (Paris), January 1965.

Hill, Steven, "Kuleshov—Prophet without Honor?," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1967.

"Lev Kuleshov: 1899–1970," in Afterimage (Rochester, New York), April 1970.

Zorkaia, Neïa, "Lev Koulechov," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May/June 1970.

Taylor, Richard, "Lev Kuleshov, 1899–1970," in Silent Pictures (London), Autumn 1970.

Levaco, Ronald, "Kuleshov," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1971.

"The Classic Period of Soviet Cinema," in Film Journal (New York), Fall/Winter 1972.

Gromov, E., in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), September and Octo-ber 1982.

Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 1, 1985.

"Lev Kuleshov," in Film Dope (London), March 1985.

Navailh, F., in Cinéma (Paris), November 1988.

Revue du Cinéma/Image et Son (Paris), February 1989.

Nave, B., "Koulechov révélé," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), no. 204, November-December 1990.

Yampolsky, M., "Kuleshov's Experiments and the New Anthropology of the Actor," in Inside the Film Factory: New Approaches toRussian and Soviet Cinema, edited by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, London and New York, 1991.

"Special Section," in Positif (Paris), no. 359, January 1991.

Amengual, B., "1917–1934. Les Soviétiques: Koulechov, Poudovkine, Vestov, Eisenstein, la FEKS," in Cinemaction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 60, July 1991.

Prince, S., and W. E. Hensley, "The Kuleshov Effect: Recreating the Classic Experiment," in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), vol. 31, no. 2, Winter 1992.

* * *

Lev Kuleshov is known to Russian filmmakers quite simply as the "father of Soviet cinema." He began his career in cinema before the Revolution working with Evgeni Bauer and became one of Soviet cinema's leading film directors and theorists. Vsevolod Pudovkin, who was one of his pupils, once wrote, "We make films, Kuleshov made cinema."

It was the desire to establish a theoretical foundation for the legitimacy of cinema as an art form independent of theatre that led Kuleshov to be the first to distinguish montage as the key element specific to cinema in an article written in 1917. This idea was to be taken up and developed by various schools of Soviet filmmaking, above all by Eisenstein and Vertov, but the distinctive feature of Kuleshov's theory was a belief in serial montage, a brick-by-brick construction of a filmic narrative.

In the early post-Revolutionary period, when there was a desperate shortage of everything, including film stock, Kuleshov worked at the new State Film School with a small workshop of actors, refining his techniques in the so-called "films without film." Central to these was the experiment that has become known as the "Kuleshov effect," which demonstrated that the viewer's interpretation of an individual shot is determined by the context (or sequence) in which that shot is seen. The same shot could be interpreted differently in different contexts. But Kuleshov also appreciated the importance of acting and was responsible for developing the notion of the actor as naturshchik or "model," deriving from the Delsartian school of acting technique. By economical and stylised gestures, refined during an intensive period of rehearsal, the naturshchik could convey precise meanings to the audience in accordance with the director's plan. Kuleshov would produce an "action score" for every movement in his films.

These techniques were first applied on a large scale in Kuleshov's first feature film, the highly original satirical comedy The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), in which Pudovkin played one of the criminals. The apotheosis of the naturshchik was the role of "the Countess," played by Kuleshov's wife, the extraordinary actress Alexandra Khokhlova. The film's technique also demonstrated one of Kuleshov's other preoccupations of the period, an obsession with the characteristic features of American cinema, which he dubbed amerikanshchina, "Americanism" or "Americanitis," and which included fast action, stylised gesture and, above all, rapid cutting and maximum economy. There are no lacunae in a Kuleshov film.

His next film, The Death Ray, a thriller, was popular with audiences but not with officialdom. On the other hand, By the Law, set in the Yukon during the Gold Rush and based on a story by Jack London, was a great critical success. But his next three films were variously regarded as failures: Your Acquaintance, The Happy Canary and The Two Buldis. The end of the 1920s was no time for experimentation: filmmakers were increasingly expected to fulfill the "social command" associated with the First Five-Year Plan by making films that were "accessible to the millions."

After this, Kuleshov came under increasingly frequent attack from the authorities for his alleged Formalism and his apparent inability (widely shared) to produce a film on a contemporary theme. His subsequent films include at least one further masterpiece, The Great Consoler, which can be understood on many different, but sometimes overlapping, levels. It confronts the problem of differing layers of reality at a time when the doctrine of socialist realism was being promulgated and a single officially inspired version of reality held up as a paradigm. The Great Consoler was Kuleshov's first sound film, again starring Khokhlova, and still demonstrating a fascination with experimenting to push cinema to its limits. His other, later films were less distinguished, and he complained vociferously about his treatment at the hands of the authorities. Nevertheless, in 1935 he received the title of Merited Artist of the RSFSR.

Throughout his career Kuleshov was an eminent teacher: in 1939 he was made a professor at the State Institute of Cinema, and in 1944 he became its director. His theories of cinema are expounded in Russian in his publications The Art of Cinema (1929), The Rehearsal Method in Cinema and The Practice of Film Direction (both 1935), and The Foundations of Film Direction (1941). The importance of his role as teacher can be measured by the fact that almost all these books were published at a time when he was no longer able to make films himself.

Kuleshov's career and influence have been much under-appreciated in the West. This is mainly because so much of his significance lies in his scarcely translated theoretical work, known largely by indirect repute, and in his teaching, the impact of which is almost impossible to quantify. But any Russian film scholar asked to list the most important figures in the history of Soviet-era cinema will almost certainly begin with Kuleshov, whether as filmmaker, theorist, or teacher.

—Richard Taylor