The Crazy, Iconic Life of Nico; Andy Warhol Muse, Velvet Underground Vocalist, Enigma in Amber

There’s no denying that train wrecks make great documentary subjects.

Not that Abraham Lincoln doesn’t, but watching someone come unglued is a whole ‘nother sort of compelling. Upsetting, even.

Docs in this genre usually require the subject to have left the building in order to reach a satisfying conclusion. The final word belongs to an assortment of friends, colleagues, admirers, enemies…some of whom may be harboring ulterior motives.

Surely German chanteuse Nico’s appearance factored into Andy Warhol’s decision to elevate her to Factory superstar status. (See his video of her immediately above.) She was a model after all, arresting enough to have appeared as herself in La Dolce Vita. She romanced rock gods, film directors, and movie stars, many of whom have their say in Susanne Ofteringer’s documentary Nico-Icon, viewable in its entirety up top.

It’s a fascinating, cautionary portrait, but as the backseat psychoanalysis mounted, I found myself wanting to hear from the subject more.  With apologies to Neil Diamond fans, we decided  it was only fitting to show you Nico having her own say.

Maybe she was a nightmare. Former keyboardist, James Young, wrote a book about his time on tour with her. He’s in the documentary, of course. Aspiring icons, you’ve been forewarned:

When I worked with her her looks were gone and she wasn’t this Chelsea Girl creature, this peroxide blonde Marlene Dietrich moon goddess vamp. She was a middle aged junkie.

Nice. You reckon he might have gone easier on her, had she been one of John Waters’ superstars, the late Edith Massey or the still-thriving Mink Stole?

Forget sticks and stones. It takes a lot more heroin and hard living to kill the looks of anyone with her bone structure.

Did Nico really have such little use for anyone’s approval but her own? The art she made after her iconic work with the Velvet Underground convinces me that her embrace of ugly–what Chelsea Girls director referred to as her “stupid German perversity”–was sincere.

She’s still an enigma trapped in amber. She’ll be your mirror.

Find 200 free documentaries in our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

Related Content:

Andy Warhol Shoots “Screen Tests” of Nico, Bob Dylan & Salvador Dalí

Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel

Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico Reunite, Play Acoustic Velvet Underground Songs on French TV, 1972

Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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  • mike morgan says:

    To be fair the James Young book is not overly harsh on Nico – it’s just that her
    whole life by that stage is about smack.
    It’s a well – written book for my money.

  • Ramon Cortez says:

    I find it interesting that so many people seem to want to judge Ms. Paffgen, especially by their standards – and then not realize that’s exactly what she loathed. She wanted to be who SHE wanted to be. She rejected the idea that she had to be a fashion model, some kind of rocker chick,an acolyte of Andy Warhol or anything else. So to judge her by any of those standards runs athwart of the line.

    Unlike most of the commenters here, I actually met “Nico” and saw her perform at The (Polski) Dom. My memory of her starts there. I still remember her stopping traffic dead on St. Marks Place just by coming up to the sidewalk (The Dom was a basement). I’ll never forget that. But obviously she didn’t want to be the Courreges-boot wearing.Chanel skirt wearing blonde beauty. She pretty obviously didn’t care about that.If anything, I think she wanted to be assessed for her performance work, and that means both singing and being “Nico”.

    Later in her career, people would say “Wow, she really lost her looks”. They just didn’t get that she didn’t cae about that. They did.

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