Cyberlizard goes to the movies

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989)

Aki Kaurismäki Director. Starring Matti Pellonpää, Nicky Tesco

There have been several road movies about rock bands and several parodies of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle (Spinal Tap springs immediately to mind). Leningrad Cowboys Go America combines both genres with a bizarre Finnish twist.

The film

The Leningrad Cowboys are a large Soviet band (though actually played by Finnish actors) trying to hit the big time. The lineup includes not only guitars but also accordions, tubas, and other instruments not normally associated with rock 'n' roll. They audition before a "Siberian Svengali" but he is unimpressed - "no commercial potential" - and suggests that the band try America, as (in his opinion) Americans will accept any trash. In the meantime the bass player has been found frozen solid in the farmyard, winklepicker boots and long quiff both pointing skywards. The father of the Cowboys (for they are all related) suggests they go to America and take the body on one last journey. Thus the stage is set for an impromptu and disastrous tour of the USA led by their autocratic and greedy manager Vladimir (played by the late Matti Pellonpää).

This is a bizarre, eccentric but often very funny film, although it depends a lot on your sense of humour. I laughed until I cried, but other people may find the deadpan, off-centre gags a bit strange. The band themselves are brilliantly incompetent but start to at least develop a sense of rock 'n' roll as they progress towards their ultimate date, playing somebody's wedding in Mexico. One of the highlights of the film has to be their brass-laden rendition of "Born to be wild" at a bar frequented by bikers, fronted on this occasion by English singer Nicky Tesco. In their own taciturn way the Finns embody both the cameraderie and the bickering of a group on the road. You'll probably either love it or hate it.

Two more films followed, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1993) and Total Balalaika Party. The band have since become something of an institution in Finland.

To get some idea of what you may be letting yourself in for, try the following links:

Leningrad Cowboys Official Homesite
Unofficial Leningrad Cowboys Fan Club

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