Emotions and the "Kuleshov Effect"
In the 1910–20s, the famous Russian film director Lev Kuleshov was very interested in the question of the mechanisms of perception of films by the audience. It was a time when the art of cinema was just emerging, but movie stars had already appeared, and the public went crazy about them. Among these stars was Ivan Mozzhukhin. Kuleshov shot a short film with Mozzhukhin in which the actor does nothing - he just sits and looks at the camera.
The sequence of frames was as follows:
First, the actor looks into the camera, then show a plate of soup. Then follow the footage where Mozzhukhin looks into the camera, which are replaced by the image of a child in a coffin. Once again, the face of Mozzhukhin - and a beautiful woman.
The audience, according to Kuleshov, telling about his impressions, admired how remarkably the artist depicted first hunger, then compassion, and then love. But as it turned out, the shots where Mozzhukhin looks into the camera were the same every time. That is, the film was created, in essence, in the minds of the audience.
The effect of Kuleshov interested and psychologists.He demonstrated that a person transfers his own emotions and assumptions into what he sees.
Subsequent studies have shown that people classify (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) certain facial expressions depending on the context. Neutral expression can look both happy and sad. A skewed face may seem enthusiastic or agonizing. Fear and anger can also be confused. It's clear.
But creating virtually any sense of neutral expression? This, according to a group of scientists of the International Society for the Study of Cinematography and Media, is already too.
First, they say, no one knows what Kuleshov really told the audience and how he evaluated their reaction. In addition, the reaction itself could be varied.
The audience could have concluded that Mozzhukhin was in love with this woman, or had more base feelings towards her, but no one said he was indifferent to her, no one had the idea that he was disgusted.
Nobody concluded that he had any negative feelings about the soup. In none of the fragments did the actor seem to any of the spectators to be bored or disinterested.
So, while the context certainly influences perception, the impact is rather limited. Given a bright emotion, and it can not be taken as negative or hostile. Viewers know this, and then form a more specific view on the nature of the existing emotion.
Recently, French students took part in a similar experiment that studied perceptual features.
The participants were shown alternately the face of an actor playing a child, a woman in a coffin. It was not a montage, just three different fragments. When only the actor’s face was shown, 88 percent of the students rated his expression as neutral.
The other students were shown three fragments combined into a film, and most were still told that the face was neutral. 68 percent called the facial expression neutral, after viewing it in conjunction with a fragment where the soup was. 61 percent said the same thing about fragments with a child and a coffin.
However, questions, of course, remain. Kuleshov did not just deal with inexperienced spectators, he dealt with fame. It was a famous actor. How many people who would be asked to evaluate the actor's game would call a facial expression neutral if it belonged to, say, Meryl Streep?
How much does the installation actually change our perception? Can we recognize emotions without context? Maybe we cannot, but we are definitely able to exclude some variants of interpretations.