When considering what else occurs when two shots are joined together it is impossible to ignore the theories of the Russian formalists. This movement in early cinema is typified by classic films such as Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ which is the mainstay of any introduction to film theory. Essentially the Russian formalists realised that when images are connected together other thoughts and meanings emerge that were not contained in the original images. Up until this point cinema had been very literal, showing simple sequences of events. The Russians pioneered the concept of montage where (what seemed at the time to be) abstract images were cut together with footage to suggest other meanings. The classic example is that of Kuleshov and Pudovkin who cut images of soup, a dead woman on a coffin or a little girl playing with a toy over the expressionless face of the actor Mosjukhin. In each case audiences enthusiastically described the excellent acting of Mosjukhin convinced he had reacted differently in each example. In fact his expression had never changed (see below). The audience had connected the images in their own minds, creating a story of the actor’s internal emotional state.
Exercise: Repeating the Mosjukhin experiment
Find yourself an actor who can keep a straight face, or a human figure or doll. Record them staring motionlessly ahead. Record some images that can represent the thoughts of your character. Cut the images over your actor in different combinations. Attempt to create an impression of what they are thinking. Upload your best sequences to your blog. Ask other students to comment on what they perceive the sequences to mean. Analyse your own sequence and the work of other students. Which sequences work best. Why? Is there anything about the composition or content of the images that makes them work especially well? It is also possible to create meaning by re-ordering elements from within the scene.
For this exercise, I chose to use an action man doll to perform as Mr Mosjukhin. I had attempted using an actor but the opportunity to do so did not arrive in time for me to work on the experiment. However I’m happy to use the humanoid doll, as I feel it adds a further irony on to what I used as scenes that he ( it ) was looking at.
Part 1 – I grabbed a scene from the German TV series Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter (2013- ) showing lots of wartime action. Flicking back to the action man, one can almost see a twinkle of excitement in his eyes, or perhaps a feeling of dread ( PTSD )
Part 2 – Two handsome tattooed men embracing in an act of love. As we see our hero again, there could be a sense of longing, or lust, or perhaps, sadly, a sense of disgust. Only the viewer can ascertain the thought.
Part 3 – The 2016 FA Cup final between Crystal Palace and Manchester Utd. Maybe our action man gets elated or bored by the image of twenty two men and a ball.
Part 4 – As my girlfriend stated upon viewing, the model in the frame has a juicy bottom! Again, the viewer can decide what the action man is thinking about the image.
I enjoyed this experiment, and how the image can insinuate emotion within what the subject is thinking. This is a powerful and yet non-obvious tool. How a character can be charged with thoughts and elevated emotions by how the viewer is interpreting the action.