Happy birthday, Viktor Tsoi!

Original felt pen drawing by Tsoi inspired by a shot from Needle/Игла (1988)

Original felt pen drawing by Tsoi inspired by a shot from Needle (Игла, 1988)

Today Viktor Tsoi would have turned 51. Tsoi and his songs were a symbol of freedom for many people of perestroika generation. He died in a car accident on August 15, 1990, aged 28, but as his devoted fans keep saying until today: “Tsoi zhiv!”(Tsoi is alive).

Being an important presence in Kazakh New Wave cinema (a period when Kazakh cinema came to international attention in the late 1980s and early 1990s), Tsoi appeared in numerous documentaries, short and feature films. Most of them are now cult, and today I would like to mention all of them here:

    Yya-khkha! / Йя-Хха! (1986)

(Rashid Nugmanov)

– is a short documentary about Leningrad rock music scene by Nugmanov, which he made as part of his coursework at VGIK. The film features the footage of Tsoi working in a boiler room, as well giving a private concert for his friends after hours.

    The End of Holidays / Конец каникул (1986)

(Sergei Lysenko)

– is the first film, in which Tsoi appeared as an actor. It consists of four music videos for “Kino” songs, connected by one storyline.

    Rock / Рок (1987)

(Aleksei Uchitel)

– is a documentary feature film about Soviet rock of the 1980s that hinges on portraying antagonistic relationship between the underground music scene and the official party policy.

Rock (1987): Viktor Tsoi performing on stage...

Rock (1987): Viktor Tsoi performing on stage…

The film is built around bands like “Akvarium”, “Avia”, “Auktyon”, “DDT” and “Kino”, and includes numerous interviews with their members and concert footage.

...and working in the boiler room

…and working in the boiler room

From Viktor Tsoi’s interview : “[on his work in a boiler room] This kind of work is natural. You can see fruits of your labour straight away. You don’t have any bosses. … You throw coal into the furnace, and people upstairs get warm, that’s it.

    Assa / Асса (1987)

(Sergei Solovyov)

– is one of the most iconic films of perestroika period, in which every character, every plot turn tunes in, incarnates, captures the spirit of the times.

The film itself deserves a separate article, that is why here we will mention only Tsoi’s spectacular cameo in the film’s finale: he comes to a job interview for a position of restaurant entertainer, ignores tedious instructions of how to behave on stage, climbs up to a bandstand and performs his most acclaimed song “Khochu peremen” (I want changes):

    Needle / Игла (1988)

(Rashid Nugmanov)

– is the film that Tsoi is most famous for. Or the other way around.

The poster of Needle (1988)

Poster for Needle (1988)

His character Moro, looks like a comic book hero (that was very well spotted by the creators of Igla Remix – a 2008 remake of Needle, that has a lot of animation inserts), collects debts and tries to save his old girlfriend from drugs.

Moro’s antagonist – surgeon Arthur, performed by another rock legend Pyotr Mamonov – plays dirty and provides drugs for the girl. This opposition on screen was interpreted by many as rivalry between Leningrad and Moscow rock music scenes, that each of the musicians represented.

    Sex et perestroika / Секс и перестройка (1990)

(Francois Jouffa and Francis Leroi)

Poster for Sex et perestroika (1990)

Poster for Sex et perestroika (1990)

– is not the most dignified end to Tsoi’s cinematic career.

French film crew comes to shoot a softcore movie to perestroika USSR. At some point of the film the director with his Russian guide attend the concert of “Kino”.

When Tsoi performs his songs “Pechal” (Sorrow) and “Zakroi za mnoi dver, ya uhozhu” (Close the door behind me, I am leaving), a little caption appears saying that Viktor died three months after the shooting.


Komsomolskaya Pravda, 17 August, 1990:

“Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him… Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang… Tsoi is the last hero of rock”.

Happy birthday, Viktor Tsoi.


  1. Pingback: Made in Crimea: ASSA (1987) | Obskura

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