Nico 1988 Poster & Premiere

The latest in the increasingly frantic conveyor belt of rock and pop biopics, Nico, 1988, has just received its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, where it opened the Horizons strand.

At this rate we’ll soon be running out of singer’s stories to be told. I fancy seeing a Billy Mackenzie movie myself – with the opening scene consisting of The Associates being dropped in the London offices of their record company and then cutting to Billy as he steps into a taxi, explaining to the cabbie that this will be his last free ride on the company tab. Before telling him where he wants to be taken. Dundee.

Anyway, so far, there haven’t been too many reviews of Nico, 1988 but there is evidence of a buzz building and I dare say I’ll be heading out to have a look myself when it arrives in Britain albeit I’ll be going with, at best, moderate expectations. Decades of experience have taught me that this is the best strategy to employ when going to see any biopic.

Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli (that’s her in the middle of the photo top right), the film stars Danish actor Trine Dyrholm, who was very impressive last year in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune. Trine started out as a singer herself and it’ll be particularly interesting to hear how she tackles Nico’s unique vocal style, which many have likened to a foghorn.

I’ll give you she can often be off-key but I adore that bleak but mesmerizing baritone. Her version of The End makes The Doors’ original sound like a cheery ditty but that colder than Alaska in wintertime intonation is the perfect accompaniment to her music. And timeless too. You could imagine a chanteuse in Weimar era Berlin sounding like that, or even in a peasant woman in medieval times in the Alps with that voice entertaining her fellow villagers during a local celebration. Well, I can imagine that kinda thing anyway.

From Nico’s debut album Chelsea Girl this is one of the most beautifully melancholic songs you could ever hope to hear:


Born Christa Päffgen, Nico was a model, working with the likes of Coco Chanel; an actor – she participated in some of Lee Strasberg’s method classes – along with Marilyn Monroe if the legend is true – and was given a walk-on role in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita before moving to NYC and hanging out with the Andy Warhol crowd and starring in his experimental Chelsea Girls. She was also a muse to the likes of Brian Jones and Jim Morrison but where Nico really shone was as a singer and musician.

She may still be best remembered for the three songs she sang on the greatest album ever recorded, The Velvet Underground and Nico, but her solo work can be spellbinding too. Particularly on her second and third albums, The Marble Index (1968) and Desertshore (1970).

Nico x 4

Nico, 1988, though, examines the tail end of her career, think Tony Wilson’s Factory rather than Andy Warhol’s. Grit rather than glamour. This is the era of a scagged-up singer washed up in Salford and Manchester, playing to limited audiences for little money, that money inevitably being quickly spent securing smack from some scumbag dealer. No Lou Reed, no Edie Sedgwick, no Bob Dylan but instead a number of far less famous faces like her manager and local scenester Alan Wise, a key figure in post-punk Manchester.

Nico_1988_still_2

John Gordon Sinclair plays Wise although here he seems to have been renamed Richard (he was also renamed Dr Demetrius in James Young’s Songs They Never Play on the Radio). Nico, 1988, is based to some extent on interviews with Wise, who sadly died in 2016, Peter Hook calling him: ‘A true Salford legend’ and also claiming ‘God now has a great promoter!’

Now if I happened to be the casting director whose job entailed finding an actor to play the man, I must admit Sinclair wouldn’t be someone that would immediately spring to mind for the role. The idea being even less likely than choosing his old Gregory’s Girl co-star Clare Grogan to portray Nico.

Nicchiarelli, though, is aiming for the spirit of the characters rather than going down the mimicry/lookalike route.

In an online interview for Fred TV, she stressed that her intention (together with Trine Dyrholm) was: ‘Never to imitate the real Nico or never to be blocked by reality, by the fact that it was a true story. We tried to invent, we tried to be free… At the same time with the respect that is due to a true story.’ She also stressed that she wasn’t attempting to tell the whole story.

So, if you want to see a very linear tale of Nico from her childhood through to her final days, shot with the kind of slavish veracity that New York Times fact checkers would approve of, then this is not the biopic for you. But bear in mind that factual accuracy seldom helps make a film more dramatically successful.

Here’s a little taster for the film:

 
A UK release date is yet to be confirmed. The Venice Film Festival ends on Saturday.

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