The original Yahoo Serious.
Dateline: The U.S.S.R–1984.
Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting) seems at peace with the idea that heavy snow will fall down upon him in the street while he waits in long lines for meat, toilet paper and other essentials. Vladimir makes the most of his meager circumstances and never complains–he knows that he’s always being watched and that his conversations are being monitored. Most importantly, Vladimir doesn’t want to make trouble.
He idolizes Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker, but earns his daily bread blowing perfunctory saxophone lines for the Moscow Circus orchestra. When his job takes him to New York City for a cultural exchange gig, Vladimir stands a lifetime of docile compliance on its ear by making an impulsive decision to defect–while shopping at Bloomingdale’s, no less–and right smack dab in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s presidential tenure.
See Vladimir shop in big American super market with no lines for the toilet paper and always many number choices coffee, yes? See Vladimir take your order at McDonald’s. See Vladimir get the standard treatment from a couple of gen-u-ine Big Apple muggers!
When this film had its original theatrical release, Williams was still known primarily as the hyper-stimulated comedian who’d breathed life into Mork from Ork, resident extraterrestrial of the Garry Marshall sitcom universe. I saw Moscow on the Hudson back then and came away mightily impressed by his masterful personification of an altogether different kind of alien–an earthling, even!
Seeing it again for the first time some thirty two years later, I was amazed to find out how well the film holds up. Truth be told, I remembered very little about it, which made this a bit of a rediscovery–and a joyful one, at that.
Most of the credit must go to writer-director Paul Mazursky. Despite racking up five Oscar nominations, the late Mr. Mazursky’s enormous contribution to cinema seems to have slipped through the cracks of history. That’s a real shame, for though he’s had his misfires, Mazursky (also an actor, familiar to fans of The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm) also had a distinct gift for humanizing the plight of fish out of water with a deft blend of comedy and drama. These skills came into play for his biggest successes–Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Harry and Tonto, An Unmarried Woman, Down and Out in Beverly Hills—and they were honed to razor sharpness for Moscow on the Hudson.
This limited edition release (3,000 copies only) from Twilight Time does the feature proud, with an unassailable 1.85:1/1080p transfer and two sterling audio options. English SDH subtitles are also available. Bonus features include two audio commentaries–one by Mazursky (ported over from an earlier DVD release) and a new one by TT factotums Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. There’s also an isolated score track and a colorful booklet highlighted by the latest in a series of fine essays by Kirgo.
Without a doubt, the biggest takeaway from this film–viewed retroactively–is how it points out the stark difference in American immigration policy between now and then. Make no mistake, Mazursky’s effort was accepted as a fairy tale even back in the day, albeit a somewhat gritty one. Ironically, despite R-rated language and a pair of sexually explicit scenes featuring full-frontal nudity, Moscow on the Hudson seems positively quaint today, comparable to the way classic Frank Capra films came off to mid-eighties audiences.
Journey back to those faraway days when America was seen as that shining city upon a hill…
Free of guilt.