Leningrad Cowboys Go America

Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a 1989 road movie by Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki about the adventures of a fictional Russian rock band (Leningrad Cowboys, consisting of members from the Finnish rock band the Sleepy Sleepers, augmented with additional musicians) that travels to the United States to become famous. The title came from the Marx Brothers film Go West (1940). After the film was released, the fictional band transformed into a real band, complete with ludicrous hairstyles.

Leningrad Cowboys Go America
German theatrical poster
Directed byAki Kaurismäki
Produced by
Screenplay byAki Kaurismäki
Story by
Music byMauri Sumén
CinematographyTimo Salminen
Edited byRaija Talvio
Distributed byFinnkino
Release date
  • 24 March 1989 (1989-03-24)
Running time
79 minutes[1]
  • Finland
  • Sweden

Leningrad Cowboys Go America was followed five years later by a sequel, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994) and a concert film Total Balalaika Show (1994). The film was reissued on DVD in October 2011, as part of the Criterion Collection's Eclipse series, paired with the other two Leningrad Cowboys films.


The Leningrad Cowboys, a band with foot-long quiff hairstyles and long Winklepicker shoes to match, are seeking success in Siberia, but nobody seems to like their music, except for the mute village idiot, Igor (Kari Väänänen). Thwarted by a lack of local commercial potential, they are encouraged to move to America, for people will "buy anything" there. They depart for New York, bringing with them a band member who had frozen the previous night while practicing outside.

They arrive at the CBGB bar in Manhattan. An agent offers them a gig at a wedding in Mexico and recommends that they change their musical style to rock and roll. They buy a used 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 Limousine, strap the coffin carrying their frozen band member onto the roof and set off to earn their way through the Deep South, adapting their musical style to suit local tastes at each new location. All the while they are being driven on and exploited by their money- and food-hoarding manager, Vladimir (Matti Pellonpää), who has a seemingly unlimited supply of beer in the ice-filled coffin. Meanwhile, Igor, who stowed away on the plane, follows the band by his own means of transportation. When he finally catches up with them, they appoint him as their road manager.

During the trip, the band spends time in jail, has their car engine stolen, causes a nightclub to close after playing an unsuccessful show, and reunites with a long-lost cousin (Nicky Tesco) whose singing gives positive reception from the audience. They eventually make it to Mexico and perform their wedding gig, where the thawing bass guitarist is revived with a shot of tequila and joins the group on stage, as does Igor. Vladimir watches them play then wanders off, but the band finally finds success in Mexico, making the top ten.


American director Jim Jarmusch has a cameo as a car dealer. The film also includes cameos by blues guitarist Duke Robillard and American Rockabilly Hall of Famer, Colonel Robert Morris, with his wife Irene.


A soundtrack album was released in 1989.


The film was ranked #88 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[2] It also holds a 100% 'Fresh' rating on review site Rotten Tomatoes based on 5 reviews.[3]


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