Television, Art of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Television, Art of


the various forms of artistic endeavor associated with the development of television.

Television presents a great variety of subject matter to a mass audience: it records real-life events and broadcasts programs with art forms created or established by other arts, such as concerts, theatrical performances, and motion pictures. This function imparts an aesthetic quality to a television program that depends on a unity of the creative and communication processes. For example, a program director, cameraman, or commentator who is making a direct report from the scene of an event can use various expressive means, such as montage, different camera angles, intonation in speech, and film editing, to give the broadcast the greatest significance and verisimilitude. He can reveal more profoundly the ideological, political, social, psychological, and aesthetic meaning of what is taking place, as well as stress the socially important and the individually representative features of events and participants.

The art of television in the broad sense consists in the professional use of technical facilities, the principles of expressiveness, and the perception patterns of viewers, as well as in the ability to penetrate to the essence of events. It combines the skillful interpretation of a theatrical performance or concert with the special artistic treatment of “slice of life” presentations, such as reporting and interviews. In various television broadcasts, there is an aesthetic basis for a direct connection between the medium’s informative-journalistic functions and the artistic functions.

Many television programs combine various events, concert selections, excerpts of performances, and motion pictures into a whole, and the master of ceremonies usually plays an important part in such programs. Other types of programs include holiday concert programs devoted to a single theme, such as Blue Light, and informative broadcasts composed of stories, dialogue between the master of ceremonies and guests, and film clips from popular-scientific, documentary, or feature motion pictures; examples of the latter type include The Obvious and the Incredible, Motion-picture Travel Club, and Motion-picture Panorama. Similar programs include cycles of broadcasts featuring motion pictures and appearances by film-makers, film specialists, and viewers. All these formats rely on special staging or arrangement of the program by the master of ceremonies as well as on the editing of picture and sound.

The possibilities afforded by television broadcasting and viewing can be used to create programs by editing old movie news-reels. Examples of such programs are Chronicle of a Half Century, which consisted of 50 films devoted to the history of the Soviet state and produced for the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917, and the 1972 program Winter and Spring of 1945.

Since the 1970’s, series of programs have been produced whose format consisted of dialogue between a master of ceremonies and a large audience, such as With All One’s Heart (mistress of ceremonies V. M. Leont’eva), or between a master of ceremonies and individual people, such as A Soldier’s Memoirs (with the author K. M. Simonov as master of ceremonies) and the cycle of television films Hero of the Five-year Plan, produced for the Twenty-fifth Congress of the CPSU. The documentary television motion picture is in many ways close to the traditional documentary film; as a television program, however, it acquires new psychological and aesthetic qualities. The conception of the author of a documentary television film is principally revealed by the film’s narrator, who seems to address each viewer personally and who unites the impressions of each viewer into a single entity.

The art of television synthesizes the artistic and aesthetic principles of motion pictures, the theater, literature, music, the graphic arts, and the estrada (the variety stage). By virtue of its innate possibilities, it reproduces and creates its own productive forms from those art forms that preceded it. Television possesses the photographic expressiveness of motion pictures, which permits an authentic re-creation of any picture of the real world. In addition, the art of editing and television’s immediacy allow the viewer to observe what he cannot see on the motion-picture screen or the stage of a theater; however, the image scale requires that visual material be presented in a manner different from that of motion pictures or the theater. Because the television viewer perceives the production on a screen in his own home, he also has a greater impression of experiencing the events portrayed and of participating in the creative process, phenomena which the art of television reflects in its aesthetics. Television attracts the special attention of the audience by giving the illusion of intimately and directly addressing a specific person and a specific family. Home viewing habits logically gave rise to serial forms of the television art.

Television plays an enormous part in the communist work of educating the workers of the Soviet Union. It makes it possible to acquaint the mass of viewers with the cultures of the fraternal peoples of the USSR and the peoples of other countries.

A single broadcast based on a literary classic evokes interest in the original work among an audience of several million. Even in the first years of its existence (the early 1950’s), Soviet television was enriched by presentations of the classics. Later, films were produced that were expressly suited to television and intended for a mass audience. They included the best productions of Soviet theater groups, such as Ostrovskii’s Wolves and Sheep and Even a Wise Man Stumbles, Griboedov’s Woe From Wit, Gorky’s Vassa Zheleznova (Malyi Theater), Anna Karenina (based on the novel by L. Tolstoy), Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (Moscow Art Academic Theater), Lavrenev’s The Breakup, and Trenev’s Liubov’ larovaia (Leningrad Bolshoi Drama Theater). During this early stage in the development of the art of television, such films formed the first cycle of television programs. The format of these performances was subsequently refined and became a genre unique to television.

The art of television took shape as an independent art form in the mid-1950’s and came of age during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was in this period that television’s various forms and styles became established: television films, dramatic, operatic, and balletic performances, and televised novellas and short stories. Central Television began making films experimentally in the 1950’s; examples included Two Brothers From the Arbat (1953, directed by A. Zak) and The Lodger and Fat and Thin (1956, directed by S. P. Alekseev), both based on short stories by Chekhov. The same period saw the first Soviet theater productions for television— Mashen’ka, based on Afinogenov’s comedy, and The Linden Tree, based on J. B. Priestley’s play, both directed by M. F. Romanov.

Television films and special programs were produced from Russian and foreign classics. Important examples included Boris Godunov (1971, based on Pushkin’s tragedy), What Is To Be Done? (1971, based on Chernyshevskii’s novel), a series devoted to the 175th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth and including The Little House in Kolomna, Angelo, Mozart and Salieri, and others (1973–74), My Life (1972, based on Chekhov’s novella), Pages From Pechorin’s Diary (1975, based on Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time), First Love (1969, based on Turgenev’s novella), Two Friends and Fantasy (1975 and 1976, respectively; both based on motifs from Turgenev’s novella Torrents of Spring), and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1968, based on Wilde’s novel). Productions of works by Soviet authors included The Strogovs and Siberia (1976, based on G. Markov’s novels) and Violet (1976, based on a work by Kataev).

The viewer’s perception of participating in the creative process and the close contact between the viewer and the performers make it possible to achieve “one-man theater,” which was developed in detail as early as the 1930’s by V. N. Iakhontov. The Soviet art of television has created notable examples of poetic television theater and of a performance format unique to television, in which a single artist performs in a multicharacter production or a cycle of productions. Important examples of the latter include B. A. Babochkin’s performance in A Dreary Story (1969, based on Chekhov’s novella) and I. V. Il’inskii’s appearance in cycles of short stories by Chekhov and Zoshchenko (1970–75). The artistry of I. L. Andronikov as seen in television performances carried a special authority.

From the variety of forms available to the art of television, it is the cyclical and serial forms that have become the most important and typical in both the USSR and abroad. They hark back to the most diverse art forms of the past: narrations composed of independent short stories connected by a superficial plot or by the personality of the narrator (One Thousand and One Nights and Boccaccio’s Decameron), the experiments of the theater from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s (for example, the work of R. Wagner), and those phenomena of artistic culture that arose from the early development of mass media (primarily the newspaper novel printed issue by issue and the novel printed in installments). In line with the general process of the democratization of the arts, these forms were used for the political, moral, and aesthetic education of the masses. At the same time, they became one of the principal elements of mass culture in bourgeois society (comics, the detective serials about the sleuths Nat Pinkerton and Nick Carter, and the Tarzan and Fantômas film cycles).

In the USSR the first cyclic and serial forms appeared in the mid-1950’s. These were markedly extemporaneous programs, such as The Lively Quiz, An Evening of Lively Questions, and KVN (Club of the Lively and Quick-witted). During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the tradition of these broadcasts was continued in such programs as Well Now, Girls!, Art Lotto, and The Café With 13 Chairs. Other innovations of the 1950’s were a children’s television puppet theater with permanent heroes and subsequent television puppet films.

The first Soviet serialized feature film was We Draw the Fire on Ourselves (1965, directed by S. N. Kolosov). Subsequent television films included Operation Trust (1968, based on L. V. Nikulin’s novel The Swell), His Excellency’s Aide-de-camp (1970), Shadows Disappear at Noon (1972, based on the novel by A. S. Ivanov), Seventeen Moments of Spring (1973, based on the novel by Iu. S. Semenov), For the Rest of Your Life (1975, based on V. F. Panova’s novel Traveling Companions), and the television novellas Different People (1973) and Such a Short, Long Life (1975). Serialized films and programs were also produced for children, including This Is My Village (1974), Keshka and His Friends (1975), and The Boy With a Sword (1976).

Of special significance was the group of serialized television films produced between 1971 and 1975 and devoted to the worker. They included films about the Soviet working class, for example, Assignment and Engineer Pronchatov (1973), You Will Gain It in Battle (1975), and Difficult Storeys (1975), and a film about a kolkhoz village— Iurka’s Dawns (1975). The six-installment film How the Steel Was Tempered (1973, based on the novel by N. A. Ostrovskii) gave an innovative interpretation of a classic Soviet novel.

Many gifted screenwriters have devoted their talents to Soviet television, including I. G. Ol’shanskii, S. B. Gansovskii, and Iu. Kh. Aleshkovskii. Screenwriters who work with artistic and journalistic forms include S. I. Zhdanova, V. S. Zorin, and G. G. Radov. Important directors include S. N. Kolosov, A. V. Efros, V. I. Uskov, V. A. Krasonpol’skii, V. S. Turbin, P. I. Fomenko, P. R. Reznikov, K. P. Khudiakov, A. A. Belinskii, V. V. Zagoruiko, N. P. Mashchenko, L. A. Kvinikhidze, I. V. Il’inskii, T. M. Lioznova, B. V. Durov, O. E. Lebedev, and I. P. Shmaruk. Documentary directors include R. L. Karmen, I. K. Beliaev, V. P. Lisakovich, and E. N. Andrikanis.

Among the major actors and actresses known for their work in Soviet television are M. I. Zharov, M. M. Plisetskaia, I. M. Smoktunovskii, A. A. Popov, L. S. Bronevoi, L. K. Durov, V. I. Gaft, A. I. Dmitrieva, O. I. Dal’, A. A. Mironov, V. V. Tikhonov, R. Ia. Pliatt, Iu. M. Solomin, M. B. Terekhova, A. D. Grachev, Iu. I. Kaiurov, G. I. Iatskina, G. A. Frolov, N. N. Volkov, S. Iu. Iurskii, A. S. Dem’ianenko, V. D. Safonov, V. Ia. Samoilov, O. P. Tabakov, M. M. Kozakov, T. V. Doronina, A. B. Freindlikh, L. M. Gurchenko, I. O. Gorbachev, A. B. Dzhigarkhanian, and E. A. Lebedev.

Television productions are filmed in Moscow by Central Television and by the Mosfil’m and M. Gorky motion-picture studios. Productions are also filmed in Leningrad, Minsk, Kiev, Sverdlovsk, Odessa, Tashkent, and other cities. Questions about the art of television are dealt with in the journal Televidenie i radioveshchanie.

The USSR exchanges television productions with other socialist countries. Among the serialized films that have become popular with Soviet viewers are A Stake Greater Than Life and Four Tankmen and a Dog (Poland), both of which dealt with the struggle against the fascist invaders, and Mate Bors (Hungary) and Hans Beimler—Comrade (German Democratic Republic), which dealt with the antifascist struggle of the Communists. The socialist countries have produced films concerned with the everyday problems of life and the struggle with narrow-mindedness, as in the USSR cycle Our Neighbors. Characteristic of the best television productions of the socialist countries are a clear presentation of ideological positions and a striving to improve the artistic medium presented to the viewers.

In the capitalist countries, the art of television is part of the general system of mass communication, which serves the capitalist monopolies. It is subject to the constant influence of imperialist ideology, which is aimed at the preservation of capitalism and the education of the masses in a spirit useful to the ruling circles. The art of television was developed in a sharp competitive struggle with the motion-picture industry. In order to attract the masses, it concentrated mainly on creating commercial productions—westerns, horror films, historical “costume” dramas, and situation comedies—produced in the spirit of the traditional commercial motion picture and the theater.

At the same time, talented artists within the television industry, in formulating an innovative art form, were trying to produce films dealing with broad social problems. Screenplays were written for television by J. B. Priestley and J. Osborne (Great Britain), F. Mauriac and A. Maurois (France), P. Chayefsky, A. Miller, and R. Rose (USA), and F. Hardy (Australia). In the 1950’s the motion pictures Marty, Marie Octobre, and Twelve Angry Men were based on television screenplays. Important television films included The Life of Leonardo da Vinci (Italy, directed by R. Castellani), The Notebook of Orson Welles and Around the World with Orson Welles (Great Britain, directed by Orson Welles), and The Magic Flute and The Rite (Sweden, directed by I. Bergman). However, productions by the West’s major television artists have introduced modernist tendencies into the art of television.

Of great importance in the art of television in the capitalist countries have been productions devoted to political, politico-historical, and social problems, for example, the television series The New People (USA), and serials that portray the everyday life in an average bourgeois family, for example, the serial Peyton Place (USA). In addition, literary classics, such as Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga and Dickens’ David Copperfield, have been filmed in Great Britain.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.