Aki Kaurismäki’s Leningrad Cowboys
In the late eighties and early nineties, Aki Kaurismäki (The Match Factory Girl), the master of the deadpan, fashioned a waggish fish-out-of-water tale about a U.S. tour by “the worst rock-and-roll band in the world.” Leningrad Cowboys Go America’s posse of fur-coated, outrageously pompadoured hipsters struck such a chord with international audiences that the fictional band became a genuine attraction, touring the world. Later, Kaurismäki created a sequel, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, and filmed a gigantic stadium show the band put on in Helsinki for the rollicking documentary Total Balalaika Show. With this Eclipse series, we present these crackpot musical and comic odysseys, along with five Leningrad Cowboys music videos directed by Kaurismäki.
Criterion’s 29th Eclipse set presents Aki Kaurismaki’s Leningrad Cowboys, which includes the films Leningrad Cowboys Go America and its sequel Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, along with the “concert film” Total Balalaika Show, over three single-layer discs. The first two films are presented in the aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 while the concert film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. All have been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Again, similar to Criterion’s first Kaurismaki Eclipse set, I was very surprised by the quality of the video presentation. Go America looks the best of the three and is really near-perfect. There a very few flaws or marks here and the digital transfer, other than some minor noise, is clean and stable. Colours pop, blacks look deep with very little crushing, and the image is super sharp. Meets Moses is about the same in terms of the actual digital transfer (colours may be a little more washed) but the print shows a few more blemishes like marks and scratches, though they’re not too heavy. Blacks also appear to be a little more on the grayer level. Total Balalaika Show goes for a more documentary approach and appears to be a little rougher because of it. The image here is fairly sharp on close-ups, with long shots a little softer, and colours seem a little muddier, but this could all be a condition of the shoot. Damage is evident but still not as noticeable as Meet Moses.
Though quality varies between each film overall I was very pleased and pleasantly surprised. A nice looking presentation for all three films.
Each film has a stereo track that sounds clear with some nice range and volume levels and some noticeable movement between the speakers. But it never really rises to much else and is just a generally fine track.
Since this is an Eclipse set you wouldn’t expect much of anything but we actually do get a some features here. On top of the usual excellent liner notes by Michael Koresky we also get 5 music videos on the third disc. Presented interlaced and of adequate quality we get “Rocky VI,” “Thru the Wire,” “L.A. Woman,” “Those Were the Days,” and “These Boots,” all of which are generally amusing.
A rather entertaining little set with some fairly funny funny moments and a very dry wit (I’m still getting used to Kaurismaki admittedly but we seem to share a similar sense of humour.)
I would have loved it if Criterion could have actually released this in their main line with some supplemental material but they at least give us a great presentation for each film and then some actual supplemental material with the music videos. It comes highly recommended.