Nico – About Documentary »Nico: In Memoriam«

Not a documentary but the the ruins of an attempted documentary. Bernd Gaul’s film »Nico: In Memoriam« is just that. Short concert clips and Warhol material united do not create documentary but a surprise guest at the viewing saves the day.

Labels can be misleading, especially if they are untrue, as is the case with Bernd Gaul’s film »Nico: In Memorium«. He has called his half hour long collection of clips a documentary and so this is what the viewer expects and wants to see but this is not what the film is at all. What the viewer sees are the failures, the ruins of a Velvet Underground documentary that never was. We see footage of Nico’s solo concert in West Berlin 1986. She’s high, giggly, not entirely there but her voice is still haunting and raspy and her presence still the one of a star. We see short clips of an interview held the same year in a hotel – an interview Gaul found somewhere, where he can not remember. We see footage borrowed from Andy Warhol’s estate. Footage of factory parties and screen tests. This non-documentary only made sense once the director headed on stage to answer questions. Before that it was a disappointing thirty minute collage of concerts and screen shots.

In 1985 Bernd Gaul decided to film a documentary on the Velvet Underground – »Then the most important band of our time«. Death of those involved and death of an era hindered his plan. In 1987 Lou Reed decided he did not want to talk about times gone by, he did not want to talk about drugs anymore. 1988 saw the death of Nico. Before she passed she had agreed to do an interview with Gaul on the roof tops of West Berlin. That day the skies were clear and blue but Nico never showed up. The director was unable to reach her again before she died. As the audience asked him about the footage it became clear that most of it, excluding the concert clips, was borrowed. An uncomfortable silence spread throughout the intimately sized Lichtblick Kino. Then a German, older gentlemen chimed in and picked up the post-screening momentum: he was Nico’s boyfriend in the 70s. He started to tell the story of her death. How he flew to Ibiza to help her son, how they made a radio announcement to locate the couple who brought Nico to the hospital after finding her paralyzed on the side of the road next to her bicycle. He organized for her body to be brought back to Berlin as her son found diary entries stating she wanted to be cremated, which wasn’t possible on Ibiza. When they were together he remembered her telling him about her mother’s grave in Groenewald, Berlin. He had offered Nico to accompany her to her mother’s grave but she always refused saying »If I go there I stay there«. This is where she now lies. This unplanned guest appearance saved the rather sparse »documentary« screening. The footage wasn’t bad and the idea to document The Velvet Underground was a great one. The director should re-label the movie as a failed documentary and immediately this would make it more exciting and more accurate.