How Early Russian Filmmakers Changed Film Editing Forever

Posted on January 8th, 2016 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

Russian Filmmakers Changed Film Editing Forever

Old Soviet Union propaganda films probably seem like an unlikely source of inspiration for film students. However, in the years between the 1917 revolution and the reign of Joseph Stalin, early Russian filmmakers helped pioneer many common editing techniques you’ll see onscreen today.

Since many working-class Russians could not read, Lenin felt that film was the perfect way to spread Marxist revolutionary philosophy. With fresh stock in short supply, filmmakers experimented with splicing together found footage to create montages, developing a distinct style which rejected traditional continuity and emphasized using visuals, rhythm and pacing, and music to communicate ideas.

For modern film production students, the fundamental principles of these methods remain relevant and useful to this day.

The Kuleshov Effect: A Fundamental Film Editing School Principle

The Kuleshov Experiment is one the earliest examples of film theory, and helped open people’s eyes to the possibilities the medium offered. In his short film, Lev Kuleshov took a single shot of an old Tsarist matinee idol, and alternated it with shots of a girl in a coffin, a bowl of soup, and an attractive woman.

Even though audiences saw the same shot of the man three times, they reported seeing a different expression on his face depending on what he was ‘reacting’ to. The experiment proved that the order and juxtaposition of different shots could be used to evoke different emotions in people, laying the foundation for modern film editing school theories in the process.

Russian filmmakers found inventive ways to edit old footage.

Russian filmmakers found inventive ways to edit old footage.

Pudovkin’s 5 Editing Methods Explained For Students in Film Editing School

One of Kuleshov’s students, Vsevelod Pudovkin, would play just as integral a part in developing modern editing theory. Pudovkin recognized that editing was a form of expression unique to filmmaking, and developed five techniques that film production courses still teach today. These are:

  1. Contrast: viewers are presented with two very opposed scenes in sequence.
  2. Parallelism: where the editing draws parallels between differing events.
  3. Symbolism: using a shot to convey a metaphorical meaning.
  4. Simultaneity: cutting from one location to another to convey actions occurring simultaneously.
  5. Leitmotif: repeated images that appear throughout a film to remind audiences of a particular idea, person, or situation.

Applying Eisenstein’s Editing Theories During Your Career In Film Production

Sergei Eisenstein, one of the most revered Soviet filmmakers, originated several techniques which you’ll encounter during your career in film production. He placed particular importance on metric editing and rhythmic montage, using shot length and scene dynamics to create the tempo and rhythm of his films. He also emphasized tone in his work, focusing on light, shadows, and colours.

His most innovative theory was the ‘intellectual method’ of editing, in which footage was combined to create conceptual connections. Eisenstein used his methods to produce many famous propaganda films. Some were montages which juxtaposed images to draw parallels, for example splicing footage from a slaughterhouse with a riot. Others experimented with tempo and perceptions of time, most famously when depicting a massacre on the Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin.

One of Eisenstein’s most famous films depicted a massacre in Odessa, Ukraine.

One of Eisenstein’s most famous films depicted a massacre in Odessa, Ukraine.

Want to learn more about film editing theory?

Visit Trebas to learn more about our programs or to speak with an advisor.


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