Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov was born on January 13, 1899 in Tambov in the Russian Empire. His father, Vladimir Kuleshov, belonged to the Russian landed gentry, was a patron of arts and owner of a private estate in Central Russia. His mother, Pelagea Shubina, was a teacher before she married his father. His parents understood his weaknesses (poor speaking ability and bouts of depression) and strengths (a sharp eye, persistence and determination). His forte was the ability to see what for others remained unseen. Young Kuleshov received exclusive private education at the home of his father who had a degree from Moscow Art College. After the death of his father, 15-year-old Kuleshov and his mother moved to Moscow. There he studied art and history at the prestigious Stroganov School, then continued his studies at Moscow School of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture focusing on oil painting.
Kuleshov may well be the very first film theorist as he was a leader in Soviet montage theory — developing his theories of editing before those of Sergei Eisenstein (briefly a student of Kuleshov) and Vsevolod Pudovkin. For Kuleshov, the essence of the cinema was editing, the juxtaposition of one shot with another. To illustrate this principle, he created what has come to be known as the Kuleshov Experiment. In this now-famous editing exercise, shots of an actor were intercut with various meaningful images (a casket, a bowl of soup, and so on) in order to show how editing changes viewers' interpretations of images.
Kuleshov directed the Euro-western “By the Law” in 1926.
In addition to his theoretical work, Kuleshov was an active director of feature-length films until 1943. Since 1943 Kuleshov served as the academic rector of Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography.
He died in Moscow on March 29, 1970.
Today we remember Lev Kuleshov on what would have been his 115th birthday.