In the dawn of the 20th century, cinema was a new art form, consisting of many techniques that hadn’t been fully developed. The elements of editing were among them. Filmmakers knew that you could cut and splice the film strip, but they didn’t thoroughly comprehend the artistic purposes of doing so.
Lev Kuleshov, a Soviet filmmaker, was among the first to dissect the effects of juxtaposition. Through his experiments and research, Kuleshov discovered that depending on how shots are assembled the audience will attach a specific meaning or emotion to it.
In his experiment, Kuleshov cut the shot of an actor with shots of three different subjects: a girl in a coffin, a hot plate of soup, and a pretty woman lying in a couch. The footage of the actor was the same expressionless gaze. Yet the audience raved his performance, saying first he looked sad, then hungry, then lustful.
Both these examples further illustrate the power of editors as storytellers. The data gathered with the Kuleshove Experiment were heavily used by Russian filmmakers, especially in respect to the Soviet Montage. Eventually, this became commonplace.
The findings from the Kuleshov Effect have deeply affected how filmmakers shoot and edit their movies. Check out our post on Reaction Shots for examples on how the juxtaposition of images can provoke a powerful emotion on the viewer.