When Aki Kaurismaki, Finland’s deadpan farceur of minimalist slapstick, absurdist comedy and bruised romanticism, teamed up with the aggressively eccentric rock and roll cover band Leningrad Cowboys, a mix of bar band performance, punk attitude and polka flourishes, to make the surreal rock and roll road movie Leningrad Cowboys Go America, who knew it would be the beginning of a surreal collaborative friendship?
Actually it wasn’t the beginning — he had already directed a couple of music videos for the band — and Aki Kaurismäki’s Leningrad Cowboys: Eclipse Series 29 (Criterion) includes all five of their music video collaborations along with their three feature films. In Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) they push their own image as a bizarre bar band from the wilds of Northern Europe to extremes tht have to be seen to be believed. Clad in matching black boots and gravity-defying hairdos that both jut out into a spindly point, they navigate the backroads of America one bar at a time, recognizing long-lost relations through the DNA of their fashion statements and love of blues-based American rock songs. Who else but Jim Jarmusch would make a cameo: the blond reverse image of these mock-Soviet rock soldiers?