July 7, 2012

An experiment based on Kuleshov’s work with political icons

Karl MarxMost film students will know of the Kuleshov experiment by their second year in film school.  And most historians will know who Karl Marx, Margaret Thatcher, Richard Nixon and Napoleon Bonaparte are.

Well, why not mix the simplest film experiment in history with four of history’s most debated icons? Meanwhile, we can test someone’s historical knowledge.

Try showing the following video to your friends, students or peers.  (Kids, try this with your parents.) Ask them how the other images in the sequence makes the famous people feel.

If you want to test just one of the icons, here’s a list of the timings.

Richard Nixon starts at five seconds. 0:05
Karl Marx at 40 seconds and one fram. 0:40
Napoleon Bonaparte at one minute, 33 seconds (and two frames). 1:33
Margaret Thatcher starts at two minutes seventeen. 2:17

Try showing the same video to people of different political persuasions.  Ask them to explain the significance of the different images.  What does counting money mean to each of the four people?  The boy eating?

Okay, now compare your answers.  And here are some questions to examine the data and think about.

Do you get the same answers for all four historical figures?  If not, why not?

Do you get the same answers from people of different political persuasions?  If not, why not?

What does this tell you about the importance of chosing the right actor or actress to play a part in a play?

When you watch a movie, do you and your friends read it differently?  Do you think the same happens when historians study historical documents?

How might our prejudices, or preferences for certain individuals (or nations) affect our judgement of events those individuals were involved in?

Communications is a complicated business.  Do you think people misunderstand things because of poor communication, or because of their own background, experience, and prejudices?

Do you think the experiment succeeded or failed?  If you think we should have used different historical figures, or a different set of images, let us know.

(You might also want to try this experiment with friends or family members instead of the historical figures.  Or, put in other people who mean something significant to you.  Do you have a similar experiment that uses film and history?  We’d like to see it.)