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Nomi Song, The

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 03/23/05 17:29:37

"Klaus Nomi: Out of this world."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

When Klaus Sperber arrived on the streets of New York, via Essen and Berlin, Germany, in the late 1970s, the East Village was an affordable haven for an enclave of struggling performance artists. Renaming himself Klaus Nomi (an anagram of then-popular sci-fi magazine Omni), masking his androgynous looks in Kabuki makeup, and clothing his elfin body in outrageous angular costumes, the classically trained counter-tenor took the No-Wave underground by storm, singing a mix of opera and pop in soaring, glass-shattering falsetto.

As related by a number of his friends and fellow misfits of the day, including actor Ann Magnuson and painter Kenny Scharf, the artist’s whole identity became subsumed in the stage persona he created – a mix of '30s Berlin cabaret, '50s science fiction, and the grand opera of his own beloved Maria Callas. Even clad in street clothes and traipsing the streets of downtown Manhattan, Klaus elicited a reaction from onlookers, not of “Who is that?” but “What is that?”

Among many other recollections, Magnuson and Scharf affectionately relate their first encounters with Nomi – Scharf, hearing the singer’s voice wafting across their shared apartment courtyard; Magnuson, being introduced after a night of club-hopping, transported when Nomi climbed a snowbank and burst into glorious aria.

A wonderful mixture of archival footage and interviews with Nomi’s contemporaries, The Nomi Song is a fascinating portrait of a flamboyant artist who no one really knew, a man who craved the love he never felt he received and who one friend describes in retrospect as “one of the loneliest persons on earth.”

Filmmaker Andrew Horn has filled The Nomi Song with generous clips of the artist in performances ranging from an electrifying staging of Purcell’s “The Cold Song,” to an aria from Saint Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, to a highly stylized rendition of “The Man Who Sold the World,” as a backup singer to David Bowie on Saturday Night Live. An archival cable TV clip shows Nomi, in full makeup and costume, demonstrating his skill as a pastry chef – his lemon tarts becoming his form of currency in the barter between starving artists.

Tragically, Klaus is also remembered by his colleagues with regret, and guilt, as a man they shunned in fear during his last days alive, a man who they allowed to die alone of an illness then only known as “gay cancer,” one of the early casualties of AIDS before it even had a name.

Living, and dying, as an enigma of his own creation, Nomi’s plaintive lyrics perfectly describe the essence of the man: “If they saw my face / Could I still take a bow? / Will they know me, Nomi, know me now?”

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