Fame is at once a fickle beast and the prize for a desperate act of self-creation in the ultimately tragic story of one Klaus Sperber, a fragile, diminutive West German immigrant who attached himself to the Greenwich Village new wave underground scene in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
Mr. Sperber, a trained operatic singer with then a seemingly useless talent for sounding like a genuine female soprano, reinvented himself as the otherworldly “Klaus Nomi,” a ghostly Weimar space alien who fused aria-style vocalizing with the then-fashionable sounds of disco and synth-pop.
The music seems eccentrically, if compellingly, awful now, and writer-director Andrew Horn’s documentary “The Nomi Song” treats it like an underappreciated offshoot of the pop avant-garde. Mr. Horn is a devotee of what’s unabashedly called the “Nomi Mythos” — the sum of Mr. Sperber’s icy persona, cutting-edge fashion and robotic stage presence. More broadly, he subscribes to punk icon Richard Hell’s definition of the promise of the new era: that lonely misfits such as Mr. Sperber could break the bonds of the mundane and become their own self-determined heroes.
The high-water mark of Mr. Sperber’s fame came with a performance as a sideman for David Bowie on “Saturday Night Live.” Mr. Bowie, however, must have tired quickly of the Klaus Nomi shtick: He never called back. Mr. Sperber later enjoyed a measure of fame in Europe.
“The Nomi Song” gathers an eclectic group of Mr. Sperber’s collaborators and associates from the artistic underground. They tell a story of a man of simple kindnesses — he liked to bake pies for friends — ruthless calculation — he shafted songwriter Kristian Hoffman out of song royalties — and sexual recklessness.
This last put Mr. Sperber on the cutting edge of a new disease that, at the time, was derisively dubbed “gay cancer,” that is, AIDS. He was one of the first public figures to die of the disease in 1983.
TITLE: “The Nomi Song”
RATING: No MPAA rating (Brief nudity; profanity; sexual references)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Andrew Horn. Produced by Thomas Mertens, Annette Pisacane and Mr. Horn. Cinematography by Mark Daniels. Edited by Angela Christlieb, Guido Krajewski and Eric Schefter.
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes.
WEB SITE: www.thenomisong.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS