The Last Heroes: Musicians playing actors

In 1982, Kino’s late leader Viktor Tsoi recorded “The Last Hero”, a song that would quickly become an anthem of Soviet rock and an epithet for Tsoi himself. To the youth, Tsoi represented (and in a way still is) a quasi-mythical figure who described everyday life with a sincerity and straightforwardness absent in official discourse, yet who remained in the domain of what was considered to be “Soviet.” Together with Tsoi, several other musicians became, to greater or lesser extents, iconic personae in the Soviet collective consciousness, operating both inside and outside the state ideology, being Soviet and non-Soviet at the same time, challenging the system from within.

In selecting the films for this series, it was my intention to give a sense of how these “last heroes” were in most cases all-around artists, capable of interpreting their roles without losing credibility as actors or being perceivedas “only musicians” by the public – indeed, without generating any clear hierarchy among the “actors” and “musicians.” While similar experiments in the West primarily resulted in filmic products mainly intended to glorify their stars through an alternative semiotic medium, the pervasiveness of this phenomenon in the Soviet Union – and later in Russia – is undoubtedly one of its most striking characteristics.

From classics of Soviet cinematography like Two Comrades Were Serving (1968), featuring Vladimir Vysotskii, whose music belongs to the long-standing tradition of avtorskaia pesnia (“author song”), to the scandalous 4 (2004) with Sergei Shnurov, former leader of the ska-punk band Leningrad,it was my goal to cover a broad range of genres, in both music and cinema. In fact, in the last two films of the series, featuring Eugene Hutz (Everything Is Illuminated), the Ukrainian-Russian front-man of the New York-based Gypsy-punk ensemble Gogol Bordello, and Anton Adasinskii (Faust), a renowned theater actor who nonetheless started his career as a musician in the Soviet experimental pop band AVIA, I expand the project’s horizon to explore how this tendency persists even in a non-Russian setting, thus posing the question of what it means to be a “hero” today.

- Massimo Balloni