Saturday, February 16, 2008

Leningrad Cowboys

In a sporadic search on Netflix and elsewhere for a DVD version of Leningrad Cowboys Go America, I was disappointed, again, to learn only a VHS copy is available in the States. In Europe, where musical entertainment of a wider range is available, this movie is available on DVD, but in a format unplayable on USA DVD players. A shame, that. It is a movie worth seeing every once in a while, especially when you feel your life is in a rut and you need to explore alternate lifestyles. If you still have a VHS player, I would recommend you latching onto a tape of this movie, set a few hours free on a Friday night (because you'll need the weekend to recover from the visions of the movie), and lounge back and be prepared to be transported. Mr. Jarmusch even makes a cameo appearance, returning a favor to one of the actors, Matti Pellonpää, who was in Jarmusch's Night on Earth (which FINALLY came out on USA DVD last year!).

So, unable to get a fix from that film, I opted to take a chance on the concert film, Leningrad Cowboys: Total Balalaika Show. This 1993 live outdoor concert in Helsinki was filmed in the town center, with over 70,000 in attendance. The Cowboys played/sang/danced with the Aleksandorv Red Army Choir.

Featured songs include:
Let's Work Together
The Volga Boatmen's Song
Happy Together
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Polyushko Pole (Oh, Field)
Gimme All Your Loving
Jewelry Box
Sweet Home Alabama
Dark Eyes
Those Were The Days

Truly, it is one of the most interesting live concert films I've ever seen. The mix of a rock 'n roll band with a Russian chorus and band, complete with a brass section, a balalaika section, accordions and full military uniforms works well. As you can see, the song selection included 5 Russian songs. Even if you had minimal exposure to folk songs from Mother Russia, I'll bet you've heard, at least once, each of these five songs, although I doubt you've ever heard the versions as performed by the Cowboys and Red Chorus. Both of the groups obviously enjoyed themselves and the audience caught on quickly that the show was not a joke and was, most certainly, a result of a symbiosis of great talent.

The cover versions of "Delilah" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" are sublime. And "Sweet Home Alabama"? Ronnie VanZant would have appreciated the Russian-Finnish version, just to see how the Red Chorus got into it.

Here's the Cowboys & the Red Choir doing a popular Finnish/Slavic composition, "Sweet Home Alabama". Yes, that song.

The extra features on the DVD include 4 song videos and some short films by the director of the movie. All in all, an entertaining way of spending a Friday night in. Nothing offensive, save for the hairstyles and shoe extensions, so family viewing is definitely a possibility.

Crank up the sound and be prepared to hum and laugh.

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