TV Dictionary - Actor

Creator's Statement

Contemporary Czech films and TV series often dive into the nation’s communist – or more accurately socialist – past. This spatiotemporal setting is usually used as a thematic backdrop over which the filmmakers place their characters, who are challenged by the regime’s tyrannic ideology and social issues. While the 2020 TV miniseries Actor (dir. Peter Bebjak) in a certain way continues this contemporary trend, it also presents an untraditional protagonist, who symbolically complements the previously more conventional, schematic, or predictable characters: since Actor’s homosexual protagonist, Stanislav Láník, is aware of his own unsafe position within the rigid anti-homosexual socialist regime, he chooses to exploit his sexual orientation to climb up the party’s power ladder.

This audiovisual essay explores Láník’s multi-layered character, uncovering it through the dictionary definitions of the adjective “potent.” This word has mainly three meanings – 1) cogent; persuasive; 2) having or exercising greater power or influence; 3) being capable of sexual intercourse. The essay does not separate these otherwise polysemous definitions, but combines them into a continuous flow of images and visual storylines which jump across the three episodes of Actor, creating a collage-like mosaic of events and emotions. Throughout the video we are not only following the main character, but dive deep into his motivations and amoral manipulations.

Special emphasis is then placed on the concept of “hegemonic masculinity,” which unconsciously forms Stanislav Láník’s desires and which forces him to portray himself as a socially “unproblematic” heterosexual. This concept – unfolded in the audiovisual essay – points to the broader question of hiding one’s true sexuality, which was a necessary choice in the Stalinist regime, but which often prevails even today.



Jan Kinzl is a Master’s student at the Department of Film Studies at Charles University in Prague. He creates audiovisual essays which are at the border between film theory and practice and which he publishes in Filmový přehled and Film a doba. His audiovisual essay ‘Cracks in the Czech Film Heritage’ (made with Max Stejskal) was selected for the audiovisual section of the Screen Studies Conference 2023. He collaborates with the National Film Archive and, throughout the year, with a number of Czech film festivals, such as the Karlovy Vary IFF, Ji.hlava IDFF and Zlatý Voči IFF.

What intrigues many people about the TV Dictionary project is its straightforwardness, with its formal limitations as opportunities to express what makes a television series genuinely appealing. The video entries often resemble trailers, or, more specifically, how trailers would look like if they were made by and for a specific community – a community at the intersection of videographic criticism, film studies, and telephilia. For this reason, the project can be representative of the tastes of this community but also of their geographical and political underpinnings, mostly reflective of the fact that the locus of videographic activities lies in the global center, particularly in Great Britain and the USA. How do two short videographic essays created by Czech film and media scholars fit into this context?

In terms of form, neither Jan Kinzl’s entry on a Czech series Herec (The Actor) nor our video on Vodník (The Water Goblin) diverge dramatically from other TV Dictionary entries. What makes them different is their focus on (semi)peripheral TV series that deal with (semi)peripheral political and historical realities. Watching these works through the optics of an open-minded yet profoundly Western/Anglo-American videographic community inevitably involves certain Othering. On one level, the short essays lure the audience to general themes (masculinity and homosexuality in The Actor) and overarching atmosphere (folk horror motifs in The Water Goblin), which, nevertheless, comes with the risk of obscuring the politics of the series. An informed Western viewer will have an idea or two about communism in the former Eastern Bloc, yet probably will not fully grasp how these series relate to the patterns of representing the communist regime since the 1990s. For instance, The Actor and The Water Goblin, each in their own way and concerning different periods (early 1950s and late 1980s respectively), emphasize how individual actors negotiated with power for their own benefits (rather than proliferating the myth of an omnipotent party vs. powerless ordinary citizens) and search for certain continuities between the past and present political regimes (rather than uncritically championing post-communist freedom against communist totalitarianism).

Hence, while both Czech TV Dictionary entries strive to be trailers for an informed videographic/telephiliac audience, some of their features, such as the literal and performative enactment of the word “periphery” in The Water Goblin and the highlighted ambiguity of the word “potent” with regard to socialist masculinity in The Actor, allude to other possibilities – mainly of aligning the general with the singular and opening space for bigger geographical diversity in the TV Dictionary project (and in videographic film and television studies altogether).