Friday, August 17, 2007

Russian Notebook 1: Crime Television

I'm living the month of August in Russia. One of my intentions was to try and document as much about Russian film culture as I could, but very early on I got sick and ended up bed-ridden for a while. During that time, I found myself watching a lot of Russian television.
  1. "Crime" shows dominate Russian television; they've been on top for quite a while, a decade maybe--enough for people to be long tired of them. But they're cheap to make and easy to advertise, so it's unlikely they'll leave airwaves anytime soon. In fact, their prevalence and interchangeability make them the defining genre of Russian television; it's often difficult to figure out which show you're watching--switching between channels seems more like intercutting than. The remote control becomes a method for home editing: from car chase to assassination to a busy street corner to car chase again without ever breaking continuity.
  2. "Crime" shows are both documentary and fiction-based (in Russian, fiction films are refered to as artistic films), though there's very little difference in content and presentation between the two. "True crime" shows often center around sensationalistic "investigative journalism" peppered with shots of real-life deaths, dramatic re-enactments and flashy graphics that resemble the credits and intertitles of the "fictional" crime shows (or is it the other way around?). The host of one show, which focues almost exclusively on bloody traffic accidents in Moscow, carries a small Handycam as a prop, pointing it at the proceedings; we never see what he's recording and can assume that the prop camera is never turned on.
  3. Despite being shot exlusively on video (shooting on film is very rare in Russia, where theatrical features are almost exclusively shot on HD), almost all fictional crime shows use post-synced dialogue. There is something fascinating about handheld, often rough images combined with calm, crisp sounds. On television, Moscow is the quietest city in the world, and the wind is never blowing in the country side. Foreign films and programs, which make up a sizeable portion of Russian television, are always shown dubbed, so this forms an odd aesthetic continuity.

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