Directed by Susanne Ofteringer. (1995, NR, 72 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 3, 1996
“I'll be your mirror, reflect who you are in case you don't know.” Nico -- legend, mystery, model, junkie, Teutonic ice princess, femme fatale, singer, actress, mother, death maiden -- Icon. This new German documentary about the brief but fascinating life of the unique pop goddess dubbed Nico provides an insightful glimpse at the shadowy figure that's sure to stimulate and enlighten both Nico devotees and newcomers. Nico is probably best known for her sonorous vocal contributions to the music of the early Velvet Underground, but Nico Icon also investigates her pre-Velvets modeling and acting career, as well as her post-Velvets solo career and heroin vagabond lifestyle. Born in Cologne, Germany as Christa Päffgen, Nico was a child during the Second World War. Her father was a soldier who died when she was four years old, possibly at the hands of a fellow German. A natural beauty, Nico's modeling career began at Vogue when she was a teenager. Filmmaker Susanne Ofteringer, also a native of Cologne and a film student during the time this documentary was made, studiously unearthed a great deal of the print and television advertising that Nico recorded during these early years and their inclusion provides some of Nico Icon's most original and intriguing imagery. Priceless clips are also included from Nico's limited but nevertheless iconic acting career in two landmark films of the 1960s: her brief cameo in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita and her languorous split-screen record of cutting her bangs in Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls. The documentary begins with footage of Nico in her declining years as it establishes the outlines of her career and accustoms the viewer to the sight of this self-invented horror with rotten teeth, bad skin, and dyed brown hair. As the film progresses, friends and associates offer their thoughts, testimonies, and remembrances. Warhol sidekick Paul Morrissey believes that she deliberately tried to trash her natural good looks; Nico biographer and bandmate James Young calls her “the queen of the bad girls.” Other well-known interviewees include John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Viva, Billy Name, Danny Fields, and Jackson Browne. Perhaps the most chilling commentary comes from her son (with French film star Alain Delon, who refused to acknowledge paternity) Ari Boulogne. Nico introduced her teenage son to heroin and while he was hospitalized during a three-week-long coma, Nico's primary wish was to record the sound of his life-support machinery for use in future music endeavors. In its 72 minutes, Nico Icon tells us more than we ever knew about this pop star yet manages to leave the mysterious reflecting pool that will forever be Nico intact.