dir. Andrew Horn

The Nomi Song is a biography on German singer/performer Klaus Nomi, who recorded two albums, created one of the most memorable/iconic stage images ever, and passed away in 1983, one of AIDS’ earliest victims. The website will tell you more details, and on the level of straight biography I highly recommend it — it obviously cannot speak to every last facet of Nomi’s life, but what it does capture via interviews and archival footage and remembrances is still a striking and certainly in the end sorrowful story of a human being, warts and all, who died horribly and far too soon.

But Horn deserves other credit as well for creating this film. His earlier documentary, the marvellous East Side Story, which studied the phenomenon of Communist bloc movie musicals, I remember not only for its subject matter but also its intentionally playful way around conventions of documentary — one moment that sticks in the mind covered the reading of some government directives on what could or could not be filmed. Some directors would have been content to have a stern older male voice read over a montage of clips or stills — Horn got in three German supermodel types, dressed them up in semi-military costume and had one read the directives in a quietly sultry voice.

The Nomi Song goes to a further limit. Interviewees are sometimes shown against ‘normal’ backgrounds, a cafe somewhere, a straightforward gray wall. But others are shown against imagistic portrayals of the night sky, abstract shapes, even a round light held by an apparently naked man in shadow. Audio and visual cuts are sometimes abrupt, sometimes collage-like in their overlay of data — clips speed up and slow down briefly, all without disrupting the flow of the film. It’s as if one looks through a glass darkly at it all. The editing is top notch, even of the ‘straightforward’ footage — the intercutting between one of Nomi’s final performances and friend speaking about his terrible final days is most powerful — but with the more creative moments it’s even more entrancing, the moody light going up on a full-life sculpture of Nomi, the reenvisioning of an early Nomi flyer as a framework for a video clip.

Perhaps most lovely, though, is the conceit of his aunt being portrayed by a cutout in a large scale doll-house — who knows whether it was because they only had audio footage or simply felt it would work better that way, but for all the giggles it initially causes it still somehow connects, a further touch of artificiality about such a gloriously artificial stage character’s life. It too provides a moving moment, though — near the end of the film, the cutout doll is seen sitting in a garden set as the aunt’s voice recalls the last visit she had with Nomi, where he wanted to see her old garden one final time. As she tells the story, the light slowly fades as if at the end of the day — a golden hour and after that is alternately obvious and exactly what was needed.

The theatrical runs will be limited at best, I figure. But watch the eventual DVD.