a face sharply painted white, with thin eyebrows, small pointed lips, and an odd half-bald haircut
The Nomi Song Credit: Mubi

On opening night of a four-day variety show at the East Village’s Club 57 in 1978, an enigmatic character materialized. With stiff, robotic movements, he approached the microphone, his pale face painted to draw his features upward and his body disguised by a tight jumpsuit of translucent and black matte vinyls. Until then, performances had been a mix of rock ’n’ roll bravado, sideshow debauchery, and nightlife imagination that shifted laughter and conversation between sets. But when the creature opened his mouth, exaggerated by taut strokes of black lipstick, his voice sliced through any noise. In a tightly controlled falsetto warmed by the subtlest hint of Bavarian charm, he belted Delilah’s song Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix (“My heart opens to your voice”) from Camille Saint-Saëns’ 1877 opera Samson et Dalila. The crowd was stunned.

That night at New Wave Vaudeville was the first public performance by Klaus Nomi, a fey goth whose brief career echoes in contemporary artists like Geneva Jacuzzi and Anohni. The 2004 documentary The Nomi Song uses archival footage, original interviews, and stop-motion animation to examine his life with particular focus on the five years between his debut and untimely death.

Nomi was born in the twilight of the Third Reich and immigrated to New York in 1972, where he survived as a pastry chef and vocal instructor. After six years of orbiting the East Village club scene, his singing debut quickly made him a queen of gay rock ‘n’ roll nightlife. In 1979, David Bowie plucked him and his closest friend, Joey Arias, from club land to be his backup singers on Saturday Night Live. Nomi got a record deal with Bowie’s then-label, RCA. By 1983, Nomi was seeing some commercial success as a new-wave opera singer with his second album, Simple Man. That same year, he became one of the first celebrity deaths from complications of a disease so new and politicized that many newspapers were still calling it “the gay plague” instead of its freshly minted scientific name, AIDS.

This movie should be seen by anyone who’s interested in club history, AIDS history, East Village New York nightlife, goth shit, industrial music, David Bowie, aliens, disco, opera, or the triumphs and loneliness of being a beautifully singular weirdo. 98 min.

Screening Thurs 11/30 at 9 PM at Facets; $12 general admission, $10 Facets members and students; free film trivia at 7 PM

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