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LEV KULESHOV

(Lev Vladimovich Kuleshov)

Russia

Born: Tambov, Russia, 14 January 1899.
Died: 1970.


After studying art, Kuleshov joined Alexander Khanzhonkov's studio in 1916 and worked as set designed for Yevgeni Bauer. His first film as director was Proekt inzhenera Praita / Engineer Praitt's Project (1918), which displayed elements of Constructivist machine worship. During the Civil War, he made newsreels and a feature combining documentary and acted footage, Na Krasnom fronte / On the Red Front (1920). In 1919 he organized his own workshop, the "Kuleshov collective," at the State Film School (later VGIK), which included Boris Barnet and Vsevolod Pudovkin. Since there was no film stock, they practised their ideas in a series of experiments called "films without film" and developed the notion of the "Kuleshov effect" in which, through montage, each shot acquired a different shade of meaning according to its place in the sequence. But Kuleshov never believed in Sergei Eisenstein's notion of "typage," preferring instead to train actors or, as he called them, "models" (naturshchiki), aiming for maximum screen expressivity with minimum gesture and effect. These ideas were further developed in Neobchainye priklyucheniya Mistera Vesta v strane bol'shevikov / The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), starring Alexandra Khokhlova. Kuleshov next made a science-fiction film, Luch smerti / Death Ray (1925), and the Gold Rush drama Po zakonu / By the Law / Dura Lex (1926). His first sound film was Velikii uteshitel / The Great Consoler (1933), a work of extraordinary complexity: superficially a biographical study of the American writer O. Henry, it examined the role of the artist in society, with clear implications for the Soviet artist under the new guidelines of Socialist Realism. Subsequently his filmmaking career declined and his last film was My s Urala / We are from the Urals (1944), but he continued to teach at VGIK until his death. Kuleshov was also a prolific writer, the first to use the term montage and to use it to define the specificity of cinema: his books include Iskusstvo kino ("The Art of Cinema," 1929), Repetitsionnyi metod v kino ("The Rehearsal Method in Cinema") and Praktika kinorezhissury ("The Practice of Film Direction," both 1935), and Osnovy kinorezhissury ("The Foundations of Film Direction," 1941). Kuleshov was the founding father of Soviet cinema: Pudovkin once remarked, "We make films, Kuleshov made cinema."

Richard Taylor, Encyclopedia of European Cinema



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