Sound + Vision: Nico, 1988

Nico, 1988, the new biopic depicting the final years of the remarkable, uncompromising, yet influential singer/songwriter, opens in LA this weekend, after an acclaimed, award-winning showcase at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

The Velvet Underground & Nico

Most people, if they recognize her name, know of Nico from her handful of vocal performances on the Velvet Underground’s legendary first album in 1967. But she did not continue with the band, instead embarking on a career of her own, ultimately releasing a series of cult-favorite albums that established her as a true artist in her own right. Often regarded as one of the progenitors of the goth genre, Nico was connected to an amazing array of musicians over the years, from the Doors’ Jim Morrison and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, to artists such as Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Iggy Pop, Serge Gainsbourg, Brian Eno, Patti Smith, and Marc Almond of Soft Cell (not to mention film directors Fellini and Warhol).

The real Nico, November 1985 (photo by GanMed64)

Director Susanna Nicchiarelli’s film follows Nico (who prefers to be addressed by her given name, Christa) as she deals with the struggles of being an aging star. Danish actress Trine Dyrholm (The Celebration) propels the story with her endlessly fascinating portrait of the artist, warts and all, as she tries to reconnect with her son, manage her long-standing drug addiction, and maintain enthusiasm for her challenging art while touring Eastern Europe prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dyrholm herself sings on the soundtrack, which might seem precarious, as Nico’s icy German accent is an easy mark for parody. But her commitment during the live music scenes is palpable, coming off as a cross between the artsy histrionics of Scott Walker and the fiery earnestness of PJ Harvey, and her scenes showing Nico’s private side suggest a knowingness and intelligence generally reserved for artists of only the highest caliber.

Trine as Nico  (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Sharing a similar aesthetic as Control, Anton Corbijn’s 2007 film about Ian Curtis of the band Joy Division (coincidentally, both films are set, in part, in Manchester), Nico, 1988 takes what could simply be a harrowing, tragic journey, and imbues the title character’s last couple of years with a bit of the beautiful mystery of what makes dark and foreboding material such as suffering, loss, loneliness, and, ultimately, death, so often compelling.  Musicians, and other artists, know; it is the need for communication at a level that we can all understand, because we will all get there eventually.

Nico, 1988 is now playing at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, and expanding to additional theatres the following week.