Kuleshov Effect and Trump Phenomenon

Kuleshov Effect and Trump Phenomenon

The best explanation I’ve seen of Donald Trump’s election comes from a young adult novel, copyright 2012:  Colin Fischer, by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz. The pertinent paragraph is from Colin’s notebook.  Besides its relevance to the Trump campaign, it mentions an amusing bit of film history.

Our neighbors once witnessed me take a metal mixing bowl and some household chemicals into the garage.  After hearing a loud bang, they called the police, assuming I was attempting to manufacture drugs…What the neighbors didn’t know and my father eventually confirmed for the police was the truth:  I was trying to work out the principles of explosive pulse propulsion in spacecraft for a science project.  The police laughed, although my father made me spend a month’s allowance to replace the bowl.

The misunderstanding that arose from my experiment with rocketry was in many ways an echo of the consequences of Kuleshov’s experiments with film.  His work sparked a revolution in filmmaking because the implication of his results went far beyond the meaning of facial expressions.  Kuleshov demonstrated that when you present images together, the audience connects them whether they’re actually related or not.  Sergei Eisenstein proved this when he cut old stock footage of British naval maneuvers into “The Battleship Potemkin,” a film shot entirely on land.

 Audiences assumed Eisenstein had shot it on the ocean.  When Western diplomats saw this, they sent coded telegrams to their governments, relaying their horrifying discovery that the Soviets had secretly built a new navy.  As a result, untold national resources were diverted in response to an escalation that existed only in a scene in a movie in which their own ships stood in for their enemy’s.  

I looked  up the Kuleshov effect on Wikipedia.  It’s named for the Soviet film maker who demonstrated it in the early 1900’s.  This is the Wikipedia description:

Kuleshov edited a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mosjoukine was alternated with various other shots (a plate of soup, a girl in a coffin, a woman on a divan). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mosjoukine’s face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was “looking at” the plate of soup, the girl in the coffin, or the woman on the divan, showing an expression of hunger, grief or desire, respectively. The footage of Mosjoukine was actually the same shot each time. Vsevolod Pudovkin (who later claimed to have been the co-creator of the experiment) described in 1929 how the audience “raved about the acting… the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup, were touched and moved by the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead child, and noted the lust with which he observed the woman. But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same.”

We come closer to the Trump campaign ads, both verbal and photographic:

[Alfred] Hitchcock, in the famous “Definition of Happiness” interview, also explains in detail many types of editing.  [What he calls] “pure editing” is explained visually using the Kuleshov effect. In the first version of the example, Hitchcock is squinting, and the audience sees footage of a woman with a baby. The screen then returns to Hitchcock’s face, now smiling. In effect, he is a kind old man. In the second example, the woman and baby are replaced with a woman in a bikini, Hitchcock explains: “What is he now? He’s a dirty old man.”

Colin Fischer summarizes in his notebook:

Without realizing it, Kuleshov confirmed a long-held belief about the best way to deceive people:  Show them things they want to believe.  The rest will take care of itself.

Seems to me it also works if you merely tell them what they want to believe, if you juxtapose positive phrases like “greatest” or “happy” or “unbelievably good.”

More about Colin Fischer: debbydeteringwordcraft.com.

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