Markku Salmi (1943-2020)

Markku Salmi and Michelle Aubert (then Michelle Snapes) in the Stills Department at the BFI, c.1980

Markku Salmi (1943-2020), filmographer and researcher, who worked at the British Film Institute from 1975 to 2003, passed away in late October. Born in Finland, Markku emigrated to Britain in the 1960s, and lived in London the rest of his life. His passion for film led him to the BFI, where he first worked at the Stills Library under Michelle Aubert (then Michelle Snapes). There he displayed an innate gift for cataloguing and identification, and compiled and edited the National Film Archive’s Catalogue of Stills, Posters, and Designs, published in 1982 and still an invaluable resource. In the late 1980s he became the first head of the BFI’s newly-formed Filmographic Unit, overseeing credits for the Monthly Film Bulletin, Sight & Sound, National Film Theatre programme notes, the BFI Film Classics series, and many other BFI publications, as well as the BFI’s SIFT database, until his retirement in 2003. He also co-founded the film connoisseurs’ magazine Film Dope, for which he researched countless authoritative entries.

An incredible filmographer and expert credit researcher, Markku’s invaluable assistance is acknowledged in many publications. His dedication, meticulous research, and attention to detail is legendary. Besides cinema and books, his wide range of interests included animation, cartoons and caricatures, detective novels, British film, B-movies, westerns, jazz and the blues, Elvis Presley, and art and film design. A unique person, with a deliciously dry sense of humour, he should be remembered as a key part of the BFI’s history and an important contributor to its international reputation for research excellence. He was an equally respected member of the wider film archive community, with many international friends among film enthusiasts and historians across Europe and beyond.

Sadly, Markku was in failing health the past couple of years, and spent most of 2020 in hospitals and a London care home, surviving Covid but finally succumbing to other, increasing health issues on 21 October 2020. One likes to think of him in the fabled screening room in the sky with his dear friend Peter von Bagh (they were born only 6 days apart, and Peter’s death in 2014 hit him hard), watching the complete Greed and The Magnificent Ambersons, and discussing their finer points in person with Stroheim and Welles.

For the rest of us, Markku’s passing gives us all a reason to remember and celebrate the work of the filmographer, an unsung profession, but an essential one. Markku Salmi’s name joins those of Henri Bousquet, Raymond Chirat, Georges Sadoul, Marguerite Engberg, Alfred Bauer, Gerhard Lamprecht, Hans-Michael Bock, Aldo Bernardini, Vittorio Martinelli, Denis Gifford, and others: people who have spent their lives watching films, digging in libraries and archives, scribbling credits in the dark, then storing them in card indexes, notebooks, or eventually, once technology permitted, computers. They are the scribes of film history. We all owe them a debt.

Catherine A. Surowiec