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Urs Peter Halter
Having failed to break into professional opera in his native Germany (where, as an usher in West Berlin's Deutsche Oper, he would serenade the staff after the 'real' performances were over) the diminutive Klaus Nomi headed for NYC in 1972. The vibrant New Wave/avant-garde gestalt of the mid/late '70's East Village proved to be fertile ground for the development of his unique talents. Working by day as a high-end pastry chef, Nomi began to stage his outlandish performances, first launching himself upon an unsuspecting public at the New Wave Vaudeville in 1978. The hip and cynical young audience was stunned by this weird combination of falsetto arias, booming classical orchestration, Kraftwerk-style electronica, futuristic costumes and outer space imagery. An odd assortment of artists, choreographers, designers, songwriters and musicians jumped on to the Nomi bandwagon and the phenomenon began to take off - first attracting thousands to South Manhattan events (including performances at ... Written by
Before I saw this documentary, I'd never heard of Klaus Nomi--even though I lived through the time period in which he gained underground fame in New York and abroad. What I remember instead are the New Wave acts that followed in his footsteps--groups that imitated his weird stage routine, makeup and costumes. Probably the closest to Nomi that I remember was Grace Jones, though the hair and costumes of A Flock of Seagulls also had to have been influenced by Nomi as well. As for David Bowie, it's hard to tell how much Nomi influenced him or vice-versa as both had a rather similar "other-worldliness" about them in the 1970s.
What completely set this man apart, including from the people listed above, was his bizarre singing. Having had aspirations to do opera and having a very, very high-pitched voice (almost like one of the castrati), his singing was something unmatched then or today. Some of this could be because few could imitate the style and some because it was so strange and outside the mainstream you wonder if there'd even be a market for this sort of music. It was interesting and wild--though, to me, not especially something I would like to listen to for long.
This documentary is about his life--particularly after he came to America in the early 70s. His life in Greenwich Village among the artsy crowd, his rise to prominence in what was to be termed the "New Wave" and his ultimate fall when he just started to achieve fame are all chronicled here. A sad piece, but I also appreciated how the film makers didn't just whitewash the man--giving a hint to the darker aspects of this strange man (such as the repeated theft of his friend's music).
How the story was told was done well, though there were limits since the video recordings of Nomi were often of poor quality due to the technology of the time. Also, in a VERY strange move, old audio interviews with his aunt were used but in an odd way. Since they had no video, they created sets and used a large cut-out of her! Weird, but considering Nomi's legacy, probably appropriate.
Considering that I didn't know about Nomi and was not so taken by his music, you'd expect I wouldn't really care for the film, but this would be mistaken. It was nice from a nostalgic point of view for this 40-something guy and the film was well-constructed. Well worth a look if you like documentaries AND want something different....VERY different.
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