Lev Kuleshov

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

7.0 Mister West (1924)
6.8 Luc Smerti/ Death Ray (1925)
7.2 By the Law/ Dura Lex (1926)

Lev Kuleshov (1899) studied at the Moscow School for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and found employment in cinema as a "khudozhnik" (set designer) in 1916 in Aleksandr Khanzhonkovís studios, assisting mainly Yevgeny Bauer. Kulesov welcomed enthusiastically the Communist Revolution and took advantage of the new spirit by setting up a group at the State Film School of Moscow to work on renovating the old-fashioned Russian film style that felt like merely an appendix to theater. Kulesov identified in montage the major difference between theater and cinema. The creative core of cinema consisted in editing the movie, not in shooting it. His main theoretical contribution was the "Kulesov effect", the idea that combining several shots created a meaning that depended on how they were combined and not on each shot's specific meaning. He demonstrated the technique in Proekt Inzhenera Praita/ The Project of Engineer Prite (1918). His pupils included Esfir Shub, Boris Barnet and Vsevolod Pudovkin. At the same time he helped produce newsreels and propaganda movies like Na Krasnom Fronte/ At the Red Front (1920).

Kuleshov was particularly influenced by cinema of the USA, which had already freed itself of theatrical practices, whose actors had already learned the difference of acting for the screen, and whose stories were specifically conceived for the screen. Hence his passion for both slapstick comedies and Griffith's montage.

Neobichainje Prikliucheniya Mistera Vesta v strane bolshevikov/ The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), photographed by Aleksandr Levitsky, employs the actors as puppets, that is, in an iconographic way. The characters are caricatured, without psychological depth. It is a wildly satirical film according to the commandments of FEKS, centered around the misadventures of two Americans in Moscow, a distinguished bourgeois and a rough cowboy, who set out convinced that they`ll find hostility and political plots against them and consequently misunderstand everything: the cowboy even chases a group of bikers on a streetcar, shooting them with all guns and finally capturing them like calves at the rodeo.

After Luc Smerti/ Death Ray (1925), a formalistic exercise along the lines of French and US serials, with a profusion of masked bandits, femmes fatales, shady figures on rooftops, Kuleshov made Po Fakonu/ By the Law/ Dura Lex (1926), his best film, a dramatic western scripted by formalist theoretician Viktor Shklovsky and based on Jack Londonís story "The Unexpected", a film that has the depth of a psychological study a` la Bresson and the feeling of an apologue on bourgeois morality.

un cercatore d'oro, che ha ammazzato in una rissa due suoi compagni, viene giudicato e giustiziato da un uomo e da una donna, improvvisatisi tribunale perché un'alluvione impedisce loro di consegnare l'omicida alle autorità. I cinque aveva scoperto un filone, ma l'accusato ha ucciso gli altri due e i sopravvissuti, marito e moglie, tengono prigioniero l'omicida nella baracca aspettando di poter uscire; durante la reclusione i tre attraversano momenti di tensione (il prigioniero tenta di fuggire) e di umanità (per il compleanno della donna cenano allo stesso tavolo e il prigioniero le regala l'orologio); anche le certezze vacillano, e i due coniugi non vogliono più la sua morte, mentre lui è afflitto dal rimorso; infine decidono di tenere un processo e, riconosciuto colpevole l'omicida, lo impiccano.

The eccentricities are no longer for the sake of eccentricity but part of the construction of an "imaginary reality". Montage aims at increase tension and emotion.

Vasha Znakomaia/ Your Acquaintance (1927), aka Zhurnalistka/ The Female Journalist, was an experiment in minimizing the set design (nonetheless designed by notable artists like Vasily Rakhal and Alexander Rodchenko).

Having disbanded his school's student group, Kuleshov devoted himself more to pedagogy than to cinema, directing mediocre films: Veselaia Kanareika/ The Cheerful Canary (1929), the 55-minute Dva-Buldi-dva/ Two-Buldi-Two (1929), co-directed with Nina Agadzhanova, Gorizont/ Horizon (1932), which was his first sound film and the second Soviet sound film, Velikii Uteshitel/ The Great Consoler (1933); and Dokhunda (1934); and closing his career with juvenile-oriented works such as Sibiriaki/ The Siberians (1940), Kliatva Timura/ Timur's Oath (1942), and My s Urala/ We Are from the Urals (1944).

Kuleshov shaped Soviet cinematography on the model of American cinematography, breaking the bridges with the old European models. Kuleshov was to the Soviet Union what Griffith was to the USA.

What is unique about this cinema database