The Nomi Song

Filmmaker Andrew Horn, who helped introduce an unsuspecting world to the bizarre joys of Soviet-era musicals in EAST SIDE STORY (1997), chronicles the short, flamboyant life of German-born, Manhattan-based phenomenon Klaus Nomi. Born Klaus Sperber, Nomi (his nom de nightlife was an anagram of Omni, Penthouse mogul Bob Guccione's speculative-science magazine)...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Filmmaker Andrew Horn, who helped introduce an unsuspecting world to the bizarre joys of Soviet-era musicals in EAST SIDE STORY (1997), chronicles the short, flamboyant life of German-born, Manhattan-based phenomenon Klaus Nomi. Born Klaus Sperber, Nomi (his nom de nightlife was an anagram of Omni, Penthouse mogul Bob Guccione's speculative-science magazine) came to New York City in the late '70s to pursue the classic dream of self-expression and fame. A slender, buttoned-down, classically trained, Maria Callas-loving countertenor — countertenors sing in a high, clear voice that sounds more like a choirboy's than a grown man's — Sperber renamed himself and constructed an ostentatiously freaky public personality that made walking down the street a form of performance. Dressed in a variety of futuristic costumes and made up like an androgynous kabuki vampire from outer space, Nomi got his start at a makeshift New Wave vaudeville show directed by performance artist and actress Ann Magnuson and befriended East Village neighbors like painter Kenny Scharf. He acquired a select coterie of "Nomies" and became the toast of Manhattan's art-performance underground, which Horn's interview subjects remember as the isn't-it-ironic reincarnation of Paris in the '20s. By 1979, gimlet-eyed trend-spotter David Bowie had invited Nomi to perform with him on Saturday Night Live, and his publicity-friendly shtick helped make him both a minor star in Europe (they loved him in France) and a human cartoon increasingly trapped in his own evermore consuming image. By the time he returned to New York in 1982, Nomi was ill with AIDS, the then-emerging scourge that killed him the following year. Horn taps witnesses to Nomi's brief but intense life and career who range from Magnuson, Scharf and photographers Anthony Scibelli and Michael Halsband to Nomi's devoted "Tante Dodo," present only as a disembodied voice. The irony is that Nomi's old collaborators all bemoan his transformation from scrappy little scene maker into slick commercial act, as though the essence of the New Wave in general, with its emphasis on synthesized sound and robotic imagery, and Nomi's hugely self-conscious persona in particular, weren't inherently slick and commercial. And if you never learn much about the man behind the mask, well, that's as Nomi would have wanted it. Like Londoner Leigh Bowery, Nomi's contemporary and fellow spirit, Nomi's image was everything.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Filmmaker Andrew Horn, who helped introduce an unsuspecting world to the bizarre joys of Soviet-era musicals in EAST SIDE STORY (1997), chronicles the short, flamboyant life of German-born, Manhattan-based phenomenon Klaus Nomi. Born Klaus Sperber, Nomi (h… (more)

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