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Icon, heroin(e), provocateur

INTERVIEW! Nico: In Memoriam director Bernd Gaul talks about his mini-doc collage of the troubled, über-cool Warhol pin up, Velvet Underground collaborator, and 1960s/1970s icon and muse.

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The word ‘icon’ is applied so liberally nowadays that it often borders on tedium. However, musician/singer/ actress/model/muse Christa Päffgen seems to deserve the title in her own right, be it for her lasting popularity among Velvet Underground fans, Warhol Factory nostalgia, or simply as a symbol of Berlin-grown 1960s über-hipness.

The 1988 documentary Nico: In Memoriam includes haunting footage from her 1986 solo concert in West Berlin with musical support from former VU bandmate John Cale, alongside original footage from her Warhol days. In 2013, the documentary notes the significance of what would have been the 75th year of her life, but instead marks 25 years since her death.

In cooperation with realeyz.tv, ExBlicks screens this remarkable musical testament, followed by a Q&A with director Bernd Gaul on Mon, Jan 14 at 8pm at Lichtblick-Kino.

Why make this documentary?

It was made as a by-product, because we planned a documentary on the Velvet Underground, and then we couldn’t finish it. Lou Reed wouldn’t take part because he didn’t want to talk about old times. So there was this Nico concert here in Berlin, and we filmed it, and afterwards we tried to arrange an interview with Nico for the day after the concert, but when my partner went to pick her up at the hotel she had left five minutes before. Five days later she fell off her bicycle and was dead. So we had this material and I planned this documentary as a kind of 30-minute essay about her.

Why do think people perceive Nico as an icon?

Maybe because she had this dark voice, and this dark life! [laughs] Perhaps people relate to that.

In Memoriam is just the facts, plain and simple; there’s no narrative.

I didn’t want to make a narrative or have talking heads. I think it’s more interesting for people to see the film and take their own meaning out of it.

Were you and Grosser fans of Nico and the Velvet Underground when you decided to make this documentary about them?

The music inspired us. I think the Velvet Underground were one of the most important bands in influencing modern rock history; certainly for bands from the 1980s up, and also for artists like David Bowie or Iggy Pop, because the Velvet Underground were the first ones who made this crazy noise. The noise with this voice from Nico and viola from John Cale… it was a really interesting mixture.

Do you think Nico was an asset to the Velvet Underground?

Well, she was kind of a contrast to these dark guys like Lou Reed from New York, and John Cale from Wales, and they wore these black outfits, but Nico had a white dress in the concerts, and she was blonde! So she definitely provided a contrast.

Why should people see this film?

Have a look at it, because she was a very interesting woman. You can like her or like her not; people who are watching the film are probably familiar with this scene and the music from the Velvet Underground, and Nico. If younger people see this film with no knowledge of the band’s history, I don’t know what they will say.

This film really humanises her, in contrast to her Warhol’s Factory image.

Yes, and that’s why I made it. I watched it last week with a few of her friends when we also did a screening, and everybody was impressed, because I think it’s enough that you don’t need 90 minutes of film. Thirty minutes is plenty because you see her singing and then there’s these little bits in between of this old stuff, I think it’s a nice mixture.

EXBLICKS, Mon, Jan 14, 20:00 | Lichtblick- Kino, Kastanienallee 77, Prenzlauer Berg, U- Bhf Senefelderplatz, www.lichtblickkino.org