Lev Kuleshov

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Lev Kuleshov
Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov

13 January [O.S. 1 January] 1899
Died29 March 1970(1970-03-29) (aged 71)
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter
Years active1917–1943
SpouseAleksandra Khokhlova (m.1923)

Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov (Russian: Лев Владимирович Кулешов; 13 January [O.S. 1 January] 1899 – 29 March 1970) was a Russian and Soviet filmmaker and film theorist, one of the founders of the world's first film school, the Moscow Film School.[1] He was given the title People's Artist of the RSFSR in 1969. He was intimately involved in development of the style of film making known as Soviet montage, especially its psychological underpinning, including the use of editing and the cut to influence the emotions of audience, a principle known as the Kuleshov effect. He also developed the theory of creative geography, which is the use of the action around a cut to connect otherwise disparate settings into a cohesive narrative.

Life and career[edit]

Lev Kuleshov was born in 1899 into an intellectual Russian family.[2] His father Vladimir Sergeyevich Kuleshov was of noble heritage; he studied art in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, despite his own father's disapproval. He then married a village schoolteacher Pelagia Aleksandrovna Shubina who was raised in an orphanage, which only led to more confrontation. They gave birth to two sons: Boris and Lev.

At the time Lev Kuleshov was born, the family became financially broke, lost their estate and moved to Tambov, living a modest life. In 1911 Vladimir Kuleshov died; three years later Lev and his mother moved to Moscow where his elder brother was studying and working as an engineer. Lev Kuleshov decided to follow the steps of his father and entered the Moscow School of Painting, although he didn't finish it. In 1916 he applied to work at the film company led by Aleksandr Khanzhonkov. He produced scenery for Yevgeni Bauer's pictures, such as The King of Paris, For Happiness and others. With time Kuleshov became more interested in film theory. He co-directed his first movie Twilight in 1917. His next film was released under the Soviet patronage.[3]

During 1918–1920 he covered the Russian Civil War with a documentary crew. In 1919 he headed the first Soviet film courses at the National Film School. Kuleshov may well be the very first film theorist as he was a leader in the Soviet montage theory – developing his theories of editing before those of Sergei Eisenstein (briefly a student of Kuleshov). He contributed the article "Kinematografichesky naturshchik" to the first issue of Zrelishcha in 1922. Among his other notable students were Vsevolod Pudovkin, Boris Barnet, Mikhail Romm, Sergey Komarov, Porfiri Podobed, Vladimir Fogel and Aleksandra Khokhlova who became his wife. For Kuleshov, the essence of the cinema was editing, the juxtaposition of one shot with another. To illustrate this principle, he created what has come to be known as the Kuleshov effect. In this now-famous editing exercise, shots of an actor were intercut with various meaningful images (a casket, a bowl of soup, etc.) in order to show how editing changes viewers' interpretations of images. Another one of his famous inventions was creative geography, also known as artificial landscape. Those techniques were described in his book The Basics of Film Direction (1941) which was later translated into many languages.

In addition to his theoretical and teaching work, Kuleshov directed a number of feature-length films. Among his most notable works are an action-comedy The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), a psychological drama By the Law (1926) adapted from the short story by Jack London and a biographical drama The Great Consoler (1933) based on O. Henry's life and works. In 1934 and 1935 Kuleshov went to Tajikistan to direct there Dokhunda, a movie based on the novel by Tajik national poet Sadriddin Ayni, but the project was regarded with suspicion by the authorities as possibly exciting Tajik nationalism, and stopped. No footage survives.[4]

Lev Kuleshov (left) and Arkady Gaidar at the Bolshevo House of Creativity in May 1941
Lev Kuleshov (left) and Arkady Gaidar at the Bolshevo House of Creativity. May 1941

After directing his last film in 1943, Kuleshov served as an artistic director and an academic rector at VGIK where he worked for the next 25 years.[5] He was a member of the jury at the 27th Venice International Film Festival, as well as a special guest during other international film festivals.

Lev Kuleshov died in Moscow in 1970. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Aleksandra Khokhlova (1897–1985) – an actress, film director and educator, granddaughter of Pavel Tretyakov and Sergey Botkin[2] – and Aleksandra's son Sergei from her first marriage.

Awards and honours[edit]


Year English Title Russian Title Notes
1917 Twilight Сумерки co-directed with Andrei Gromov
1918 The Project of Engineer Prite[6][7] Проект инженера Прайта
1919 An Unfinished Love Song Песнь любви недопетая
1920 On the Red Front На красном фронте short; film is lost
1924 The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks Необычайные приключения мистера Веста в стране большевиков
1925 The Death Ray Луч смерти
1926 Locomotive No. 10006 Паровоз No. 10006
1926 By the Law По закону
1927 Your Acquaintance Ваша знакомая (Журналистка)
1929 The Merry Canary Веселая канарейка
1929 Two-Buldi-Two Два-бульди-два co-directed with Nina Agadzhanova
1931 Forty Hearts Сорок сердец
1932 Horizon Горизонт
1933 The Great Consoler Великий утешитель
1934 Dokhunda Дохунда
1940 Siberians Сибиряки
1941 Incident on a Volcano Случай в вулкане
1942 Timour's Oath Клятва Тимура
1943 We from the Urals Мы с Урала


  1. ^ Peter Rollberg (2009). Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Cinema. US: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 379–383. ISBN 978-0-8108-6072-8.
  2. ^ a b Lev Kuleshov, Aleksandra Khokhlova, 50 Years in Films. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1975, 303 pp. (Autobiography)
  3. ^ "Биография Льва Кулешова". Ria Novosti. 13 January 2014.
  4. ^ Kamoludin Abdullaev (2002). Historical Dictionary of Tajikistan. Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 94–102. ISBN 978-1-5381-0251-0.
  5. ^ "Лев Кулешов". VokrugTV.
  6. ^ Izvolov, Nikolai; Drubek-Meyer, Natascha (2010). "Annotations for the Hyperkino Edition of Lev Kuleshov's Engineer Prite's Project (1918), Academia Series, RUSCICO, 2010". Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema. 4 (1): 65–93. doi:10.1386/srsc.4.1.65_7. S2CID 192057171.
  7. ^ "Hyperkino edition (DVD): Das Projekt des Ingenieurs Pright (1918)". absolutmedien.de. Retrieved 17 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kuleshov, Lev. Kuleshov on Film, translated and edited, with an introduction by Ronald Levaco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.
  • Kuleshov, L.V. Kuleshov on Film: Writings. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1974.
  • Kuleshov, L. V., and E. S. Khokhlova. Fifty Years in Films: Selected Works. Moscow: Raduga Publishers, 1987.
  • Drubek, Natascha. Russisches Licht. Von der Ikone zum frühen sowjetischen Kino, Wien – Köln – Weimar: Böhlau 2012.
  • Graffy, Julian. "DVD Reviews" [of two Hyperkino editions of Kuleshov films], Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, 2010. 4:3, 345-354.DOI: 10.1386/srsc.4.3.345_7
  • Izvolov, Nikolai and Natascha Drubek-Meyer. “Annotations for the Hyperkino Edition of Lev Kuleshov’s Engineer Prite’s Project (1918), Academia Series, RUSCICO 2010.” Studies in Russian & Soviet Cinema. 4.1 (2010): 65-93.
  • Kepley, Jr., Vance. “Mr. Kuleshov in the Land of the Modernists.” The Red Screen: Politics, Society, Art in Soviet Cinema. Ed. Anna Lawton. London; New York: Routledge, 1992. 132-47.
  • Norris, Stephen. Lev Kuleshov (Dir.), “Proekt Inzhenera Praita” (“Engineer Prite’s Project”); “Velikii uteshitel’ (O. Genri v tiur’me)” (“The Great Consoler (O’Henry in Prison”) (DVD Review 2011). https://artmargins.com/lev-kuleshov-dir-qproekt-inzhenera-praitaq-qengineer-prites-projectq-qvelikii-uteshitel-o-genri-v-tiurmeq-qthe-great-consoler-ohenry-in-prisonq-dvd-review/
  • Olenina, Ana. “Lev Kuleshov’s Retrospective in Bologna, 2008: An Interview with Ekaterina Khokhlova.” Art Margins Online. (Oct 2008).
  • Yampolsky, Mikhail. “Kuleshov’s Experiments and the New Anthropology of the Actor.” Inside the Film factory: New Approaches to Russian and Soviet Filmmaking. Eds. Richard Taylor and Ian Christie. London, UK: Routledge, 1994, 31-50.

External links[edit]