Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and second film or series available on DVD or instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
Nico, 1988 (2018)
“I’ve been on the top, and I’ve been on the bottom. Both places are empty.”
So states Christa Päffgen, better known by her stage name “Nico,” in this new biopic from Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli. Nico was the famous femme fatale (as a radio DJ early in the film calls her) of the super-cult band The Velvet Underground for a short time in the mid-60s. The film follows Nico in the last years of her life, as she is aging, bloated, strung out on heroin, and indifferent to life. While the film itself won’t necessarily win any awards, it is nonetheless fascinating as a character study and an examination of fame, superficiality, and emptiness. If you are a fan of the band, or her, or even the 60s, then you will enjoy this interesting film. Count me in for all of the above.
Nico was a beauty, a figure cut from central casting for a 60s heroin-chic rocker. She was waifish grunge before waifish grunge. She started as a model, and even landed a few bit movie parts (Fellini’s La Dolce Vita for one). She caught the eye of Andy Warhol, who was managing The Velvet Underground at the time, and she joined the band for two years. She left when the band severed ties with Warhol; she then began a solo career (inspired by good friend Jim Morrison). Her solo career was marginal, but she (along with The Velvet Underground) was extremely influential in the development of alternative rock—bands such as Joy Division and The Cure cite her as a crucial influence.
The film only covers the last years of her life as a nomadic performer: her drug use, her divisiveness, her erratic performing, and her tenderness toward her son Ari (also a heroin addict). Her reputation carries her through life at this point, in spite of her fading singing voice and her less-than-stellar music. She is feted wherever she goes, she is constantly asked questions about The Velvet Underground (which she is loathe to discuss), and she can be irascible and uncomfortable to be around. Still, the draw of fame is tantalizing.
The film itself is very straightforward, and it shines brightest when Nico has flashbacks to her childhood in Berlin (seeing the city bombed during WWII) or intermittent cuts of her time with the Velvet Underground. It’s as if her memory doesn’t work properly, and the blurred bits of the past she sees are rendered nicely in the film. It all adds up to a drab and desolate life; she is utterly lonely even though she is constantly surrounded. And certainly the strongest aspect of the film is the performance of wonderful Danish actress Trine Dyrholm (In a Better World, Troubled Water) as Nico; she is able to capture the aloofness of the mercurial star while still conveying the emptiness. It is a wonderful performance and a worthwhile watch.
Started Augusts 31st at the Chez Artiste Theater.
You will like this film if you enjoyed Control, The Doors, and/or The Runaways.
The Wire (HBO, 2002 – 2008)
This groundbreaking series is now considered one of the best shows ever put on TV. While initial critical reactions were positive, the viewership was mixed and even tepid. But time has been good to The Wire, and it is now held in high regard by everyone (The Guardian magazine called the “best TV show ever”). Count Barack Obama as one of its fans, and he famously invited much of the cast to his first inauguration. His fandom is not unwarranted: the show has uncanny depth, a stunning ensemble cast (including Idris Elba, Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn, and Wendell Pierce), incredible breadth, dense storylines and themes, and a rawness and realism that had never been seen on T.V. before. It still holds up well today.
Based on his real-life experiences as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, writer/creator David Simon fashioned the show from actual stories he had covered over the years. Each one of its five seasons was themed: the drug trade, the Stevedores union, city government, education, and the media. Those themes are fleshed out around the stellar cast from season to season, all of which was filmed in Baltimore, on the streets where the events took place.
If you have never seen it, or if you need a refresher, I am hosting a five-week series based on the show (one week for each season) at the Sie Film Center starting in September. In conjunction with the Denver Film Society, MSU Denver, and the Denver civic group Warm Cookies of the Revolution, we will have different guest speakers and community activists every week to lend their expertise. Join us for the series and then start your own binge of this important and interesting show.
The series begins at 7PM on 9/12 and runs every Wednesday for five weeks at the Sie Film Center.
You will like this show if you enjoyed Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and/or Oz.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.