Lev Kuleshov is not well-known outside of film historian circles and most of his films have been lost, but he nonetheless was an important contributor to cinema as a filmmaker, a theorist, and as the teacher of Eisenstein and Pudovkin. Perhaps his greatest impact was in demonstrating the possibilities inherent in the montage, seeing it not only as a means to rapidly advance a narrative, but also as an important way in which to convey to the audience an even more powerful way of enhancing human expressiveness. Editing, therefore, was a crucial part of Kuleshov's filmmaking process, and he spent much time experimenting. His most famous experiment resulted in the "Kuleshov effect." To produce it he filmed the expressionless face of noted actor Ivan Mozzhukhin and juxtaposed it upon clips of archival footage containing a wide variety of objects. Though the actor's face remained the same, the feeling evoked by this montage was amazingly moving and each scene had a different meaning.
Born in Tambov, Russia, Kuleshov attended the collegiate School of Art, Architecture, and Sculpture in Moscow as a teen. Afterward he worked as an illustrator for a fashion magazine, and by the time he was 17 he had begun working as a set designer and occasionally acting in Russian films. Kuleshov made his directorial bow at 18 with the melodramatic detective yarn The Project of Engineer Prite. With images that evoked early German expressionism and a few radical techniques, it was considered among Russia's most sophisticated early films. Around that time, his first film theories began to be published. He also spent time making documentaries of the revolution such as On the Red Front (1920). Kuleshov had a particular love of American filmmakers such as Mack Sennett and D.W. Griffith, especially admiring their use of the crosscut in editing. It is their work that led him to devise his montage theory, something he passed on to such Soviet greats as Pudovkin and Eisenstein. Later they would receive much of the credit for developing the montage, but in interviews they never forgot to acknowledge the lessons they learned from their teacher Kuleshov at the First National Film School in Moscow, an institution Kuleshov helped found in 1919, becoming an instructor there in 1920. That year he married one of his students, Alexandra Khokhlova, who went on to collaborate and star in many of Kuleshov's films.