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Finland 1989
Directed by
Aki Kaurismaki
75 minutes
Rated M

3.5 stars

Leningrad Cowboys Go America

Aki Kaurismaki was still developing his comic style in this, his breakout film. Whilst anyone encounter the Finnish director’s work for the first time may well consider the film unduly inert, compared to his later, more mature works Leningrad Cowboys Go America is an an animated affair.

The Leningrad Cowboys are a band from the backwoods of Finland who play a kind of .Scandinavian gypsy music whilst dressed in a ludicrously exaggerated rockabilly uniform distinguished by enormous pomaded quiffs and ridiculously long pointy shoes. They audition for an booking agent who tells the group's manager, Vladimir (Matti Pellonpaa), that they should go to America. This they do but only to be told when they get to New York that the only gig available for them is at a wedding in Mexico. And so a road trip begins. They buy a second-hand Cadillac from a junkyard (the proprietor of which is played drolly by Jim Jarmusch), strap a coffin with their frozen bass player to the roof and a couple of armchairs in the trunk for the band members who can't fit in the car and hit the road.

As they progress down Mexico way their music changes according to the expectations of their audiences and these numbers and their abuse at the hands of their grifting manager, all played out with delicious absurdity, form the substance of the film. Despite the claim that they are “the worst rock n’roll band in the world” the Cowboys' music is actually quite good, in many ways ahead of it time in its formal irreverence and instrumental eclecticism. As the film lacks the captivatingly profound level of minimalism that make his later works such as The Man Without A Past (2002) so striking, these musical interludes help to sustain what otherwise would probably have foundered as a one-joke film.

Kaurismaki followed the success of this film with a disappointing sequel, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994), which did little more than reverse the road trip and return the Cowboys to their homeland but without the musical vivacity of the original.

DVD Extras: Fans of the Leningrad Cowboys will be well pleased with this Umbrella Entertainment release which includes both their feature films, plus their live 1994 Helsinki concert in which they take on some rock classics with the help of the Red Army Choir. Also included are video clips of the band’s interpretations of Rocky VI, These Boots Were Made For Walking, Those Were the Days, L.A. Woman and Thru The Wire.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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