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Lev Kuleshov Poster

Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 1 January 1899Tambov, Russian Empire [now Russia]
Date of Death 30 March 1970Moscow, USSR [now Russia]
Birth NameLev Vladimirovich Kuleshov

Mini Bio (1)

Lev Kuleshov was a Russian director who used the editing technique known as the "Kuleshov effect." Although some of the editing innovations, such as crosscutting were used by other directors before him, Kuleshov was the first to use it in the Soviet Russia. he was driving a Ford sports car amidst hard situation in the post-Civil war USSR, and remained a controversial figure who joined the Soviet communist party and destroyed archives of rare silent movies during his experiments, thus clearing way for his own works: documentaries and feature films ranging from political cinema to timeless gems.

He was born Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov on 1 January, 1899, in Tambov, Russia. His father, Vladimir Kuleshov, belonged to Russian landed gentry, was a patron of arts and owner of a private estate in Central Russia. His mother, Pelagea Shubina, was a teacher before she married his father. His parents understood his weaknesses (poor speaking ability and bouts of depression) and strengths (a sharp eye, persistence and determination). His forte was the ability to see what for others remained unseen. Young Kuleshov received exclusive private education at the home of his father who had a degree from Moscow Art College. After the death of his father, 15-year-old Kuleshov and his mother moved to Moscow. There he studied art and history at the prestigious Stroganov School, then continued his studies at Moscow School of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture focusing on oil painting.

In 1916 he started his film career as a set designer at the Moscow film studio of Aleksandr Khanzhonkov and occasionally acted in some of its productions. He played a young lover opposite Emma Bauer, a stunning beauty, whom he truly fell in love with even before the filming started. That was the silent film For Luck (1917). Watching himself on the silver screen, young Kuleshov was disappointed with the comic effect of his acting conflicting with naturalism of his true feelings. He decided to focus on directing and developing the style of his own. His new friend, experienced film-maker Akhramovich-Ashmarin, introduced him to American school of film-making, which also influenced his work.

With the help from Khanzhonkov's leading cinematographer, Yevgeni Bauer, Kuleshov made his first experimental works in editing. In 1917, he made his first publication in 'Vestnik Kinematografii': in three consecutive articles Kuleshov trashed the "salon" traditions of his employer by writing about an artist's role in converting film industry into a new form of art. His directorial career began under the patronage of Bauer, with whom Kuleshov worked as art director on such films, as Nabat (1917) and For Luck (1917), and completed the latter as director after the original director Bauer died. In 1918, Kuleshov made his directorial debut with 'Project of Engineer Prite', and the film brought him attention of film studio executives who gave the 19-year-old beginner a chance to participate in documenting the early history of the Civil War-era Russia.

Following the Russian revolution of 1917, Kuleshov joined the Bolsheviks and sided with the Red Army in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1919, which was a continuation of the First World War. He covered the war on the Eastern front with a documentary crew. After the end of the Civil War, the Communist Party solidified control of the country, thus helping Kuleshov's career. His friend, Vladimir Gardin, appointed him instructor at the Moscow Film School. There he made a career as director and teacher. In 1920, he directed a war film Na krasnom fronte (1920), a government sponsored film about the Red Army. For some time Kuleshov continued wearing the Red Army uniform, to show his loyalty to the new government.

He studied the techniques of Hollywood directors, particularly D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett and introduced such innovations as crosscutting in editing and montage into Russian cinema. For his experiments Kuleshov was cutting old silent films from the archives of Khanzhonkov, Bauer and other private studios nationalized by the socialist govenment. Kuleshov used the archives of old silent movies for his own cutting experiments and thus most of the film archives was destroyed. Kuleshov remained quiet about this part of his career when he experimented with editing technique. He focused on putting two shots together to achieve a new meaning.

The "Kuleshov effect" is using the Pavlovian physiology to manipulate the impression made by an image and thus to spin the viewer's perception of that image. To demonstrate such manipulation, Kuleshov took a shot of popular Russian actor Ivan Mozzhukhin's expressionless face from an early silent film. He then edited the face together with three different endings: a plate of soup, a seductive woman, a dead child in a coffin. The audiences believed that Ivan Mozzhukhin acted differently looking at the food, the girl, or the coffin, showing an expression of hunger, desire, or grief respectively. Actually the face of Ivan Mozzhukhin in all three cases was one and the same shot repeated over and over again. Viewers own emotional reactions become involved in manipulation. Images spin those who are prone to be spun. Although editing and montage have already been used in art, architecture, fashion, politics, book publishing, theatrical productions and religious events (just look at placement of icons in churches, or photos in books, or pictures at exhibitions), the use of such editing in silent films was innovative and eventually led to more advanced visual effects.

Vsevolod Pudovkin, who claimed to have been the co-creator of Kuleshov's experiment, later described how the audience "raved about the acting... the heavy pensiveness of Ivan Mozzhukhin's mood over the soup, the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead child, and the lust with which he observed the woman. But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same." Kuleshov demonstrated the effect of editing that was successfully used in montage of such films, as Battleship Potemkin (1925) and The End of St. Petersburg (1927) among other Soviet films. Kuleshov's good education, as well as his connections among Russian intellectual elite also helped his career.

At that time, Kuleshov and a group of his students, among them actress Aleksandra Khokhlova, collaborated on several movies that are now generally regarded as seminal films in Russian cinema. Among them are The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), a satire on clash of civilizations showing naive American Christian pastor who comes to Russia just to be robbed twice, but then helped by exemplary Soviet policeman. In 1926 he produced his most popular film, Po zakonu (1926), based on a Jack London story. The movie was successful in Russia and especially in Europe. In 1933, he directed Velikiy uteshitel (1933), based on biography of American writer O. Henry. The film was highly praised by Osip Brik and Lilya Brik. It was an interesting advancement in Kuleshov's experimental style.

In 1936, he received his Ph.D and became professor of directing and Moscow Film School. In 1941, Kuleshov's book 'Osnovy kinorezhissury' (aka... Fundamentals of Film Direction) was published in Moscow. Kuleshov was promoted to high position within the Soviet film industry and was designated Doctor of Science for the book, which was translated in several languages and became regarded among filmmakers worldwide.

During WWII, Kuleshov made two films. One, made in collaboration with writer Arkadi Gajdar, was Klyatva Timura (1942). To complete the film, Kuleshov with his film crew was moved on Soviet government expense from cold Moscow to warm Stalinabad, the capital of Turkmenistan. There, in 1943, together with his wife, Aleksandra Khokhlova, he directed his last movie, My s Urala (1944), a film about young Soviet boys making heroic efforts in the Eastern Front of WWII. After that, he returned from Central Asia back to Moscow. The Soviet capital was recovering after attacks of Nazi armies. For his contribution to art, and also for his dedication to communist ideas, a prestigious position as Artistic Director of the Moscow Film Institute (VGIK) where he worked for the next 25 years. Over the course of his career, his students were hundreds of Soviet filmmakers, such as directors Vsevolod Pudovkin, Boris Barnet, Mikhail Kalatozov and many others. His most trusted and devoted friend was Sergei M. Eisenstein.

Kuleshov visited Paris and presented a retrospective of his films in 1962. There he enjoyed much attention from international media. His friends in the Western world included many celebrities, such as Yves Montand, Louis Aragon, Elsa Triolet among others. Kuleshov was member of the Jury at 1966 Venice Film Festival and attended other film festivals as a special guest. He made several exclusive trips outside of the Soviet Union.Kuleshov was a friend of the State security chief, KGB General V.N. Merkulov.

Kuleshov was awarded Order of Lenin, Order of Red Banner, was designated People's Artist of Russia (1969), and received other decorations and perks from the Soviet government.

Outside of his film career, Lev Kuleshov was fond of hunting, he owned a collection of exclusive hunting guns and often used them to kill game outside of Moscow and in Southern Russia. He also spent much time at Mediterranean resort near Yalta in Crimea and often made hunting trips in that area. Kuleshov was married to his student Aleksandra Khokhlova, and lived with his wife in a prestigious block on Lenin Prospect in central Moscow. There he died in 1970, and was laid to rest in Moscow's most prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery. Kuleshov's funeral took place while the Soviet Union was celebrating the centennial anniversary of the former leader V.I. Lenin.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Spouse (1)

Aleksandra Khokhlova (? - ?)

Trivia (2)

Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 579-583. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1966.

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