Rashit Yangirov


Rashit Yangirov (right), Associated Press photo

It is with much sadness that I report the death last Sunday of the Russian film historian Rashit Yangirov, aged just 54. Rashit was a notable figure in early film history circles, expert in Russian and Soviet silent cinema, with his particular forte being the documentation of early Russian history and the unearthing of biographical details of filmmakers who had often been little more than a footnote, if that, in the histories. He combined freelance film history with his profession of agency journalist, working for APTN, where he covered the war in Chechnya, and much else besides. Only recently he had published a book, Slaves of Silent Pictures (Raby Nemogo), which documented the lives of the emigre Russian filmmakers who left their homeland after the 1917 revolution and settled in the film industries of Hollywood, Paris and Berlin.

I first met Rashit in the mid-1990s, at a Domitor conference, and immediately made a friend. I believe many others can tell the same story. Though his work mostly kept him in Russia, we stayed in touch electronically, and he was a regular visitor to the Bioscope. I have happy memories of working with him on the book Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, for which he supplied us with biographical information on the first Russian filmmakers (and one Ukranian) which had never before been published in English. Frantic last minute changes were telephoned down a crackly line from Moscow in those pre-email days, as Rashit delivered the latest information just unearthed from the archives and I scribbled on the page proofs. Do read his pieces on Ivan Akimov, Charles Aumont, A. Fedetsky, Aleksei Samarsky and Vladimir Sashin-Fydorov – pioneering short studies of a still little-known corner of film history.

Associated Press today produced this release announcing his death, which makes it clear what a remarkable person he was:

Soviet film historian Rashit Yangirov dies at 54


MOSCOW (AP) — Rashit Yangirov, a prominent historian of the Soviet cinema whose works saved many pre-World War II emigre filmmakers from critical oblivion, has died at age 54.

The scholar, who also worked for the past 14 years as a journalist for Associated Press Television News, died of cancer Sunday in Moscow, APTN colleagues said.

Yangirov wrote “Slaves of the Silent,” a groundbreaking 2008 book on pioneers of Russian cinema who left their homeland after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

His research tracked the lives of emigre actors and directors who became stars or extras in Hollywood, Berlin and Paris and helped shape the prewar film industry worldwide.

“His authority in the world of film critics was indisputable,” said the Library of the Russians Abroad Foundation, where Yangirov worked as senior researcher.

Yangirov wrote more than 200 articles on Russian cinema, fiction and folklore. His subjects included the cinematic cult of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, emigre female authors, the persecution of dissident Soviet poets and references to silent films in works by writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and Mikhail Bulgakov.

Born 1954 in the city of Ufa, 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) east of Moscow, Yangirov graduated from the history department of Moscow State University in 1977.

Andy Braddel, APTN’s regional director for Russia and the CIS, met Yangirov as a graduate student in 1988, and said evenings he spent around the kitchen table with Yangirov and his wife Zoya “taught me more about the Soviet Union than several years of lectures.”

Braddel hired Yangirov to work for APTN in 1994 as a journalist covering the wars in Chechnya, among other stories.

“He managed to juggle the relentless demands of agency journalism with an even more successful career as an academic writing about his true love, the history of Russian film,” Braddel said. “He will be deeply missed by all of us.”

Yangirov is survived by Zoya and a daughter, Lucy. A funeral was scheduled for Wednesday.

I’ve not seen his book Slaves of Silent Pictures which has been published in Russian (publisher Russkoe zarubezh’e; Russkii put’). He was hopeful of getting it translated into English, and there had been interest from a Dutch publisher. I do hope that something may be done to ensure that the work of a true film scholar reaches the wider readership it deserves. Meanwhile, there are several essays by him available in English in assorted publications, while he was also behind such initiatives as the microfilm/online subscription collection Early Russian Cinema: Russian Cinematographic Press (1907-1918).

He did much for film history, keeping alive the particular corner of the past that he cared for. Ah, this is such sad news.