“Nico-Icon” takes a simultaneously fascinated and bemused look at the late Teutonic moon goddess Nico, best known for her appearance in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” equally brief prominence among Andy Warhol’s Factory “stars” and, throughthat, collaboration with an early incarnation of the Velvet Underground. Dead from a brain hemorrhage in ’88 after years of junkiedom, the singer-actress-whatever remains an enigmatic pop-culture figure; this stylish doc could well stoke interest in her doomy allure. Theatrical prospects in urban and collegiate centers look upbeat. Pic begins a one-week run at the Nuart Theatre in West L.A. today. She had beauty and intelligence, but Nico never seemed committed to any pursuit. She gave birth to a son, then turned his care over to the mother of French star Alain Delon (who denied paternity).
Born Christa Paffgen in Cologne, the future Nico (redubbed after photographer Nico Papatakis) was predisposed toward gloom at an early age — her father was exterminated by the Nazis when a battle wound resulted in insanity-inducing brain damage. By the mid-’50s, Nico’s initial modeling efforts attracted the attention of a Paris Vogue Editor; that exposure in turn led to “La Dolce Vita,” though Fellini apparently despaired of further promoting this cool, striking but lazy protegee.
She drifted through film and commercial appearances, then caught Warhol’s eye. He thrust her into a sort of guest-star performing role with his pet band, subsequent cult favorites the Velvet Underground. Despite her affair with leader Lou Reed (notably absent among commentators here), the Velvet quartet resented her presence and took a dim view of her sonorous if tone-deaf singing.
Nico later kept barely afloat as a solo artist, writing some of her own songs , covering others by Jackson Browne and soul brother Jim Morrison. But increasingly, her detached elegance showing ample signs of physical decay, she signaled little more than a desire to obtain the next heroin fix. She switched to methadone two years before dying in her mid-40s.
If Nico remains a shadowy persona here, that suits a woman who apparently resented her fabled beauty, spoke little and acquired and dropped lovers without much emotional expense.
Grown son Ari Boulogne remembers his mother, perhaps too romantically, as an artist, a true gypsy. Others are more blunt in their view of a middle-aged junkie who became a kind of freak act. When Ari (in his own junkie phase, thanks to Mom) went into a three-week coma, Nico put the sound of a life-support system on one of her records — out of empathy or sheer morbidity? Vid-shot glimpses of ’80s club gigs support the latter perspective.
Director Susanne Ofteringer maintains a balance between the appeal and the absurdity of this “death angel” icon, weaving together elements in an imaginative package that often apes ’60s pop aesthetics. TV ads, feature and music-promo clips, experimental shorts, Warhol movies and concert footage attest to the subject’s lasting “pure” beauty.
Interviewees include Browne, Euro actress Tina Aumont, avant-garde helmer Jonas Mekas, Velvet Underground members Sterling Morrison and John Cale, plus Paul Morrissey, Viva and Billy Name from the Factory.
Tech aspects are top-notch (allowing for some variable live-performance recording), pace lively and colorful without resorting to excess MTV-style flash. Pic could easily foster wider cult appreciation of subject, with potential for CD re-release of Nico’s solo discs.