Graham Russell: Before you go, tell me about the time you met Nico.
John Waters: Nico ... I met her when she played in Baltimore. Well, (before that) I saw her play with The Velvet Underground at The Dom on St Marks Place(in New York) with The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. I have the poster still. But I met her much later when she had her solo career, which I loved. She was a total heroin addict. Did you ever read that book The End? (The 1992 book is a jaundiced and not exactly objective account by her former keyboardist James Young). It’s so hilarious. It was that – although it wasn’t that, that was later when she was touring England.
She played at this disco, and I went. And people went, but not a lot, it wasn’t full. And she was heavy and dressed all in black with reddish dark hair, and she did her (makes guttural moaning noise). Afterwards I said, “It’s nice to meet you, I wish you’d play at my funeral.” and she said (mimics doom-laden Germanic voice), “When are you going to die?” I told her, “You should have played at The Peoples Temple; you would’ve been great when everyone was killing themselves!” Then she said, “Where can I get some heroin?” I said, “I don’t know.” I don’t take heroin, so I don’t know. But even if I did, I wasn’t copping for Nico!
“But that was basically it. But I’ll always remember her, and I love Nico. I remember when she died, when she fell off the bicycle (in 1988). Every summer my friend Dennis and I, we play Nico music on the day she died (18 July). I saw that documentary Nico-Icon (Susanne Ofteringer, 1995), which was great. It’s a shame: she was mad about being pretty! She was sick of being pretty, being a model. And I remember her when she was in La Dolce Vita (1960), even before.
Nico ... great singer; and even the Velvet Underground hated having her. And her music can really get on your nerves. You have to be in the mood. Sometimes it gets on my nerves. You have to be in the mood to listen to it. To put on a whole day of Nico can be ... my favorite song of Nico ever, and I only have it on a tape that someone made, it’s a bootleg. Did you ever hear her sing “New York, New York”? It’s great! I wish she’d done a whole album of show tunes! Like “Hello Dolly” or “The Sound of Music”! (Mimics Nico singing “Hello Dolly”).
Below, Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman describes his experience with Nico when he put out The Marble Index and Nico sings “Janitor of Lunacy” on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975:
It isn’t until halfway through this experimental film clip that we encounter the formidable Nico face to face. It’s 1982 and she’s well into the heroin addiction that made her performances unpredictable and often sad affairs. In this case though, the chanteuse, the song and the smack seem to meld into something quite perfect in its world-weary and haunting way.
The clip is from Mr. Dead And Mrs. Free, a production of Chelsea’s store-front performance space The Squat Theater. Many artists and musicians, from Andy Warhol to Sun Ra and The Lounge Lizards, found the Squat a friendly environment for their experiments.
In his review of the play, critic David Sterritt wrote:
Their most recent show, Mr. Dead And Mrs. Free, also includes long film sequences, which eventually give way to a bizarre cabaret act, a battlefield scene, and an inscrutable sculpture in the shape of a giant baby with TV sets for eyes.
For many of us who tramped through the city’s darker nights of the soul, the lyrics in “New York, New York” cut a little deeper. Nico brings the kind of spin to the tune that speaks to the mad side of Manhattan.
“These vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York”
In one of her very few televised appearances, Nico performs “You Forget to Answer” on French TV’s POP2 program in 1972. The songs’s cryptic lyrics convey the despair the avant garde ice queen felt over hearing of the death of her former lover Jim Morrison and how she was unable to reach him by phone on the day he died. It would eventually appear on her 1974 album The End, which takes its title, of course, from her infamously doomy cover of the already infamously doomy Doors’ original.
Talk about low budget, it looks like they’ve got her singing in a rec room or something, here, but still, once she gets started, it’s like she blots outs everything else and pulls this remarkable, spine-tingling black musical shadow from deep within her desolate junkie soul.
In case it passed you by, last November Universal Music Group put out an expanded 2 CD edition of The End and it sounds a lot better than the old CD does (comparing the two, it sounds like the earlier “budget” disc that Island put out in 1994 wasn’t even mastered for CD). I’ve gotten massively into this album over the past few months, playing it from start to finish on headphones in the darkness (the way it was obviously meant to heard) dozens of times.
Produced and arranged by John Cale and featuring Brian Eno (doing some astonishing things on his VCS3 synthesizer) and Phil Mananzera, The End is clearly not for everybody—or even most, or even many, people when you get right down to it—but to my ears, the new deluxe set, with outtakes, OGWT performances (audio only), Peel sessions and her controversial take on “Das Lied Der Deutschen” from the June 1st, 1974 concert (If Jimi Hendrix could play “The Star Spangled Banner,” why couldn’t Nico perform the German national anthem?) makes for one of the most satisfying releases of the past 12 months.
Below, Dangerous Minds pal Danny Fields tells the “meet cute” story of how he introduced Nico and the Lizard King at The Castle in Los Angeles.
French experimental film maker Philippe Garrel’s 1972 allegorical mindfuck La cicatrice intérieure (The Inner Scar) lays on the symbolism with a trowel as it winds its way through the deserts of our mind (or somebody’s) in pursuit of Garrel’s lover Nico, actor Pierre Clementi and some elusive deeper meaning. It’s a gorgeous looking folly that, despite its abundant tracking shots, is so inert it makes L’Avventura look like The Fast And The Furious.
Filmed in North Africa, Iceland, and Death Valley, La cicatrice intérieure has its moments of haunting beauty that suggest a better movie, or at least a more emotionally engaging one. The soundtrack features five songs by Nico and they contribute to the film’s other-worldly weirdness and existential despair.
Garell seems to want to echo the feel of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mystical western El Topo. Unfortunately, Garrel doesn’t have Jodorowsky’s nerve or wisdom.
Promo video for Nico’s “Evening of Light” (actually the alternate version, as heard on the Frozen Borderline set) directed by François De Menil in 1969, but probably finished much later. There was a tantalizingly brief clip of this in the Nico: Icon documentary and ever since the invention of YouTube, I’ve been hoping to find the complete piece online.
The story is told in Richard Witts’ (fantastic) Nico biography, Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon, that De Menil, heir to the Schlumberger Limited oil-equipment fortune via his mother’s family, who knew Nico via Warhol associate Fred Hughes, had become besotted by the Teutonic ice queen and proposed making a film with her.
At this time Nico was having a brief affair with a then 21-year-old Iggy Pop, who she met through John Cale, then producing the first Stooges album in New York. (Iggy once revealed to a French interviewer that Nico taught him how to “eat pussy.”) Nico told De Menil that he had to follow them to Ann Arbor, Michigan if he wanted to do it. De Menil obliged, shooting the film behind the house where the band lived.
The way Witts tells the tale is that De Menil seemed to want to get revenge on Iggy because he was Nico’s boyfriend, making the Stooges singer wear white mime make-up and frolic around in a field to embarrass him, but to my mind, this film is absolutely stunning.
Chelsea Girls was Andy Warhol’s first “commercial” success as a filmmaker. Co-directed by Warhol and Paul Morrissey, the film consists of twelve improvised vignettes (two were semi-scripted by playwright Ronald Tavel) featuring the druggy, draggy, seemingly morally-bankrupt freaks who constituted Warhol’s entourage and inner circle.
The film was shot in summer and fall of 1966 in the Hotel Chelsea, at Warhol’s “Factory” studio and in the apartment where the Velvet Underground lived on 3rd Street. Brigid Berlin (“The Duchess”), Nico, Mario Montez, Ondine (“The Pope”), Ingrid Superstar, International Velvet, Rene Richard, Eric Emerson, Gerard Malanga, filmmaker Marie Menken, Ari Boulogne (Nico’s son) a gorgeous young Mary Woronov—who danced with the Velvet Underground as part of “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”—and others are seen in the film’s three and a quarter-hour running time (the film un-spooled on 12 separate reels). Most cast members are listed by their own names as they were essentially playing themselves.
Chelsea Girls was booked into a prestigious 600 seat uptown theater in New York and actually distributed to theaters across the country. In 1966, it’s unlikely that middle America had any idea that people like this even existed. Cinema-goers in Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, San Diego and yes, even, Kansas City probably got their first exposure to actual drug addicts, yammering speed-freak narcissists, homosexuals, drag queens and a dominatrix when they watched Chelsea Girls. To Warhol’s delight, the film was even raided by the vice squad in Boston. The theater manager was arrested and later fined $2000 when a judge found him guilty of four charges of obscenity.
Movie critic Rex Reed said “Chelsea Girls is a three and a half hour cesspool of vulgarity and talentless confusion which is about as interesting as the inside of a toilet bowl.”
Tell us how you really feel, Rex!
The film was presented as a split screen, running simultaneously on two projectors with alternating soundtracks. It was a mixture of B&W and color footage. Edie Sedgwick’s vignette was removed from Chelsea Girls at her insistence, but was later known as “The Apartment.” A section originally screened with Chelsea Girls called “The Closet” (about two “children” who lived in one, with Nico and Randy Bourscheidt) was cut and later shown as a separate film.
For what we have here is 3 1/2 hours of split-screen improvisation poorly photographed, hardly edited at all, employing perversion and sensation like chili sauce to disguise the aroma of the meal. Warhol has nothing to say and no technique to say it with. He simply wants to make movies, and he does: hours and hours of them. If “Chelsea Girls” had been the work of Joe Schultz of Chicago, even Warhol might have found it merely pathetic.
The key to understanding “Chelsea Girls,” and so many other products of the New York underground, is to realize that it depends upon a cult for its initial acceptance, and upon a great many provincial cult-aspirers for its commercial appeal. Because Warhol has become a social lion and the darling of the fashionable magazines, there are a great many otherwise sensible people in New York who are hesitant to bring their critical taste to bear upon his work. They make allowances for Andy that they wouldn’t make for just anybody, because Andy has his own bag and they don’t understand it but they think they should
Ebert hits the nail squarely on the head. Chelsea Girls is actually a fucking terrible “movie.” If you view it as “art” or even as an important cultural artifact of the Sixties (it’s both) then you can give it a pass, and should, but if you’re expecting to be “entertained,” you need to re-calibrate your expectations. Only a few parts of the film are actually engaging (Ondine’s speed-freak monologues; Brigid Berlin poking herself with speed; the “Hanoi Hannah” section with Mary Woronov) the rest of it is… boring.
It looks good and parts of it are “interesting” because you can only hear what’s happening on one side of the split screen and so the silent side becomes somehow more intriguing, but, oh yeah, this is a boring thing to watch. It’s still cool, but yeah it’s boring, if that makes any sense.
Chelsea Girls has been next to impossible to see since its original releaseat least until it got uploaded to YouTube—usually screening just a few times a year around the globe. I caught it myself in the (appropriately) sleazy surroundings of London’s legendary Scala Cinema in 1984. There were probably six people there, including me. I admit to falling asleep for a bit of it, but I think everyone probably does.
This video comes from an Italian DVD that was given a very limited released in 2003. Probably the best way to watch this is to hook your computer to your flatscreen and do something else, sort of half paying attention, while Chelsea Girls is on in the background.
On June 27, 1979, accompanied only by her harmonium, Nico performed a stunning “Genghis Khan,” a typically atmospheric number from her as then-unrecorded 1981 album, Drama of Exile, on French television.
I have come to lie with you
I have come to die with you
On your padded shoulder
And your golden chest
In a wilderness of glass we rest
And all the flowers they are our words
And my chances follow dances Into a storm afraid
A sweet and bitter rest he gets
A sweet and bitter rest he gets
I have come to lie with you
I have come to die with you.
They don’t write ‘em like that anymore, do they?
The golf claps from the audience speak volumes about how this must’ve gone down in 1979!
Before she became the Teutonic ice queen chanteuse of the Velvet Underground, Nico, via then boyfriend Rolling Stone Brian Jones, was introduced to Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and signed to his Immediate Records label, where a young Jimmy Page was employed as house producer, session musician and A&R scout. (Page’s brief career as a session musician saw him adding his distinctive guitar sounds to recordings by The Who, The Kinks, PJ Proby, Lulu, Jackie DeShannon, Van Morrison and Them, Burt Bacharach, French singer Johnny Hallyday, Marianne Faithfull, Vashti Bunyan, Donovan and many others. It’s amusing to think of Jimmy Page being a part of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” single, but there he was. There are several CDs of page’s early session work, one of the best is Hip Young Guitar Slinger).
Page produced and played on Nico’s 1965 single for Immediate, a cover of Canadian folkie Gordon Lightfoot’s “I’m Not Sayin’ ” which was backed by “The Last Mile,” a song composed by Page and Oldham. Jimmy Page plays a six-string in the song, while Brian Jones plays a twelve-string guitar.
A promotional film for “I’m Not Sayin’” was shot at the site of London’s West India Docks (now Canary Wharf) by Peter Whitehead.
First I stumbled across these photos of the Velvet Underground’s junkie chanteuse doing a guest turn with Bauhaus and wouldn’t you know it, someone kindly posted the number, a cover of the VU’s “I’m Waiting for the Man,” on YouTube.
Ian Astbury: “Nico just ended up in Manchester on heroin. Southern Death Cult supported Bauhaus at Salford University when she did ‘Waiting for the Man’ with them, and Pete Murphy had to hold her up, she was so smacked out!”
Peter Murphy “Nico was gothic, but she was Mary Shelley gothic to everyone else’s Hammer horror film gothic. They both did Frankenstein, but Nico’s was real.”
Okay, so it’s “Cyber Monday” and also ‘tis the season for all the record companies to start releasing those deluxe, super deluxe, ultra deluxe, etc, box sets of classic rock albums. These can range from essential to silly, often within the same box (what was on the discs of the Pink Floyd Immersion box sets last year was truly excellent, but the stupid Pink Floyd drink coasters and Dark Side of the Moon marbles (marbles???) were, perhaps, uh, less essential). When box sets seem more like they were put together by marketeers, rather than by actual fanatical fans, it really shows.
The “Heroic Overkill in a Classic Rock Box Set” award—not that there is anything wrong with giving the folks who actually pay for their music more, rather than less—this year probably deserves to go to the 15 disc box set of the 1973 King Crimson classic Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. (Overkill it may be, though I’ve heard few King Crimson fanatics complaining about getting their money’s worth from this monster).
Another release this year that (almost) gets it perfect, is UMe’s new 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of The Velvet Underground & Nico. I can’t imagine this one not being nominated—and winning—a Grammy for best archival reissue, or box set, but it could be in a number of categories, including best design and best liner notes for VU expert Richie Unterberger’s exhaustively detailed extended essay about the recording of the album and its bad-luck plagued initial release in 1966.
I always approach these things with skepticism. Do I really need to buy an album, AGAIN, that I’ve owned on LP, CD, as part of the Peel Slowly and See box set and that I passed up when it came out again in 2002, in an edition supposedly better than the version on the box and blah, blah, blah? Is it worth the money is how I try to approach “reviewing” something like this (who gives a fuck what I or anybody else thinks about this music, it’s beyond having an opinion on). Actually, since I don’t even have to pay for music and DVDs anyway, I get review copies of pretty much everything I want, I think that makes me slightly more difficult to impress.
Additionally, I bought my first copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico—actually my grandmother bought it for me—in 1976, when I was ten. I’d read about the Velvet Underground in CREEM and I pretty much graduated from James Bond soundtracks to Ziggy, Iggy, the VU and Never Mind The Bollocks in one fell swoop. Obviously I was a child, and like most children, I didn’t have all that many records, so at the time I was initially exposed to The Velvet Underground & Nico, it was one of maybe a dozen or so records I owned. I’m not trying to convey how hip of a little kid I was, it’s just that this an album that I have listened to over and over and over again, so many damned times that I didn’t think it was something I’d ever want to listen to for pleasure again. I’ve pulled out this album very few times in the past 25 years. It’s never the one I grab when I want to listen to the Velvet Underground (that would be the VU collection, for me).
So why is this box set so great, you’re wondering? Well, for one, it’s pretty definitive. I think it can be predicted, with confidence, that this is probably the very, very last time that The Velvet Underground & Nico will ever be re-issued on a disc of any sort (maybe there will be a Blu-ray in the future, but what would be the point of that?). Truly, longtime Velvets A&R man Bill Levenson and Sterling Sounds’ Kevin Reeves have been able to tease out sonic nuances from the master tapes of both the stereo and mono releases of the album and there are slight variations and single edits and things like that, included, some more commonly heard than others. The selling points of this set have little to do with the album as we know it, however, and everything to do with it being the first official release of the now legendary Scepter Studios sessions as discovered on the “Norman Dolph acetate” found at the Sixth Ave Flea market in New York in 2002.
The acetate (a glass test record) was cut of the original five day VU recording sessions at the near derelict studios belonging to the Scepter Records label in 1966. These sessions were paid for by a Columbia Records sales executive named Norman Dolph (who I’ve met—we both collect Paul Laffoley’s art—he’s a fascinating guy) and Andy Warhol. As heard on disc four of this new box set—in the cleanest version you’ll ever hear—the Scepter Studios sessions is a true revelation—white light, white heat, even!—for any aficionado of the Velvet Underground, even the most jaded ones, like me.
It’s a show stopper. Some reviewers call the differences minor, but I don’t think so…
Truly, I’d have never thought that I could get into this album again with fresh ears, but that really has happened, via the Scepter sessions. I’ve been listening to it obsessively for about a week and just digging the fuck out of it.
Five tracks are the same, although there are different mixes, three entirely different takes and several vocal changes. Since it’s likely that when these same multi-tracked tapes were taken back into the studio at TTG in Los Angeles for finishing, the original performances were probably recorded over: Lou Reed’s falsetto backing vocals on “Femme Fatale” for instance (in the version we know he sings low and flat). “Heroin” features a far more frantic, crazed viola from Cale and even starts off with a much different opening line, giving new meaning to the lyrics (John Cale wrote of being infuriated at the change in his autobiography, now we can hear what he was so pissed off about.) “European Son” is two minutes longer and although the take is different enough from the final version known on the album, it’s pretty amazing to hear just how well-rehearsed that ear-splitting cacophony actually was! That this was “lost” for so many years, and now can be heard like this, well, it’s pretty extraordinary, it really is.
The set also included a loose 1966 rehearsal tape recorded at Warhol’s Factory on January 3, 1966 and a nicely cleaned up version of the only decently recorded performance of the band with Nico known to exist, live at the Valleydale Ballroom in Columbus, Ohio on November 4, 1966. Part of this recording, the menacing, amorphous jam “Melody Laughter” was previously excerpted on the Peel Slowly and See box set. It’s much (much) better than The Quine Tapes if you are wondering.
Additionally, there is a remastered version of Nico’s Chelsea Girl album, which seems appropriate to include here. The odds of that one seeing a sonic upgrade its own were kinda slim, so I’m OK with that.
The only place where I feel the 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of The Velvet Underground & Nico falters in any way is the failure to include the FINAL piece of media that would have made it a totally perfect box set of the 66-67 Nico arc of the band’s career, and this is the sole sync-sound audio-visual document made of the Velvet Underground and Nico, the Warhol (or Paul Morrissey) shot 16mm film Symphony in Sound.
The film, made to be screened behind the band onstage during their Exploding Plastic Inevitable “happenings” is honestly pretty dull. It goes on for a LONG time with not much happening besides a drony primitive jam and a frenetic camera zooming in and out. Nico is there (with her young son Ari) but she’s not singing, just hitting a tambourine. Lou doesn’t sing either. At one point the camera droops on its tripod and no one readjusts it for quite a while. So it’s boring, most Warhol films were boring—Warhol himself always said his movies were better discussed than actually seen—but it is the freaking Velvet Underground playing live on camera for what is probably the ONLY time during their original incarnation, so it would have been worth including here for that reason alone.
You can watch Symphony in Sound below. If you can get over how dull it is, it’s actually pretty fucking cool. In the later moments, when the cops show up due to a noise complaint, Warhol has to deal with them himself.
So, what more can I say about this 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of The Velvet Underground & Nico It truly is the killer diller item that you want it to be (it also is a no-brainer Christmas gift for that middle-aged rock snob on your shopping list). Worth the cost? I admitted above that I didn’t pay for mine, but if I had, I would feel, for sure, to have gotten my money’s worth (there’s also a 2 CD merely “deluxe” edition that has the Dolph acetate and the Factory rehearsals on the second disc). I mean, this is it, this is THE final version that will probably ever be released of this album. If it’s important to you to have an item like this particular classic rock trophy on your shelf, you will most assuredly not be disappointed by the 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of The Velvet Underground & Nico.
“The Black Angel’s Death Song” live at the Valleydale Ballroom in Columbus, Ohio on November 4, 1966:
If you have ever seen any of those low-budget “Under Review” made for DVD rockumentaries, then you know that they follow a fairly tried and true formula: Almost no music by the group or performer the doc is about, approx 5 minutes of archival film clips in the course of 90 minutes and usually a bunch of crazed loner rock critics you’ve never heard of, yakking it up about their favorite rock groups. Often the interviewees are fairly tangential to the subjects, but not always. The range from awesome (the one on the early days of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was excellent) to awful.
In The Velvet Underground: Under Review, they managed to nab TWO actual members of the Velvet Underground, Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule—both Reed and Cale, predictably sat this one out—which elevates this way above most of the others ones. Even longtime VU fans might learn something new here. For instance, I’ve listened to the VU for 36 years now and I didn’t know that Maureen Tucker didn’t play drums on Loaded because she was pregnant. Every copy of that album (and the CD) credits her on the back—your copy and mine—but it’s not her drumming, it’s Doug Yule, studio engineer Adrian Barber, a session drummer named Tommy Castanaro and Billy Yule, who was still a high school student (It doesn’t sound even remotely like Mo Tucker on Loaded as I found listening to it the day after I watched this doc). You also hear Mo talk about how she stripped down her drum kit to get a more primitive, less busy, sound. And Yule, who always gets short shrift in the VU saga, gets plenty of onscreen time to discuss his role in the band (How many of you reading this know it’s him singing “Candy Says” and not Lou Reed?). I’ve never seen an interview with him and I was very pleased to see his participation in this film. If you’re a VU fan, this film is absolutely worth your time.
In 1972, Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico reunited before the cameras of the Pop 2 TV program at Le Bataclan, a well-known—and very intimate—Paris venue. It was Cale’s gig originally and he invited Reed and Nico to join him. Reed, who hated rehearsing, spent two days with Cale working out what they were going to do. According to Victor Bockris’ Reed biography Transformer, rock critic Richard Robinson videotaped these rehearsals, which took place in London.
Both the videotape and just the audio from this show has been heavily bootlegged over the years. A legit CD release happened a few years ago, but it still sounds like a bootleg. A high quality video turned up on various torrent trackers and bootleg blogs after a rebroadcast on French TV a few years ago. It’s fairly easy to find. Now if only some of the outtakes from the Le Bataclan filming would slip out—they did “Black Angel’s Death Song” which I’d dearly love to see—not to mention what Richard Robinson has!
This is Reed coming off his first solo record and just a few months before he recorded “Walk on the Wild Side” with David Bowie and took on a totally different public—and we can presume, private—persona. This is “Long Island Lou” seen just before Reed’s druggy bisexual alter-ego showed up. Cale is heard doing “Ghost Story” from his Vintage Violence album and Nico looks stunning and happy here singing “Femme Fatale.” It’s before the damage of her drug addiction took its toll on her looks.
One thing worth pointing out here is that during “Berlin” you can see Nico’s face as Reed sings a song which he told her was about her. She might even be hearing it for the first time.
More from the Le Bataclan performance after the jump!
Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico and French avant-garde film director Philippe Garrel had a ten-year romantic relationship between 1969 and 1979. Garrel, acclaimed in his youth as being a sort of cinematic Rimbaud, was much admired by Jean-Luc Godard, but is almost completely unknown in the English speaking world. Nico appeared in seven of his films and sometimes gave him music for them that has not been heard elsewhere. Stills from his films appeared on the covers of her Desertshore and The End albums, which show how interested she was in promoting his work. Garrel made his own clothes at the time and began dressing Nico, encouraging her to dye her hair crimson and cut her bangs.
During their relationship, the pair became hardcore heroin addicts resorting to petty thievery from friends and acquaintances to support their habits. According to Richard Witts’ biography, Nico: The Life & Lies of an Icon, their Paris apartment was a “garret” that lacked gas, electricity, hot water, furniture and housed a gargantuan mountain of cigarette butts. The entire apartment was covered in two coats of glossy black enamel paint. Their bed, apparently, was Garrel’s overcoat.
To call Philippe Garrel’s films “tedious” and “self-indulgent” is a bit of an understatement. They’re preposterously tedious and self-indulgent—I believe the Monty Python “French Subtitled Film” sketch was directly inspired by Garrel’s work—but no more so than Matthew Barney’s movies, if you ask me. About half of her Desertshore album (and one otherwise unreleased song, the mind-blowing “König” see below) is used as the film’s soundtrack. (This again seems worth comparing to Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9, a collaboration with his wife, Bjork, herself a big Nico fan.)
To some, Garrel, who is still making films today, is an under-rated, visionary genius, whose work must be seen in the cinema to be fully appreciated. To them he is revered as some cinemaphiles worship John Cassavetes. To others, his films (the ones made during his relationship with Nico at least) look like what two junkies with a camera might get up to…
Phillipe’s Garrel’s early films are very difficult to see and he refuses to release them on DVD. I’ve only ever seen one of them, La Cicatrice Intérieure (“The Inner Scar”) which I found a bootleg of at Exene Cervenka’s general store in Silverlake maybe fifteen years ago. It’s a bit hard to watch. The dialogue, mostly made up right before they’d shoot it by Nico, consists of existential bitching, basically, as the pair walk around in barren, yet gorgeous landscapes shot in Sinai, Death Valley and Iceland. Garrel uses LONG static and simple linear tracking shots with minimal editing during scenes. Visually, the film is quite stunning—again think Matthew Barney—but the director forbade subtitles so unless you speak French, German and English, you’re bound to be confused. (A bootleg DVD popped up in 2005 with Japanese subtitles).
Nico does most of the speaking in La Cicatrice Intérieure, moaning throughout the film in her humorless, stentorian voice, at times coming off like some sort of prophetess of doom. As the Time Out reviewer said of the film when it was released in 1972: “You need a bloody big spliff to enjoy this. A miserable couple who you would not wish to meet at a party [Garrel, Nico] are joined by a naked weirdo [Pierre Clémenti, best-known for his role as gangster lover of Catherine Deneuve’s prostitute in Buñuel’s Belle de jour] with a bow and arrow and a desire to set everything on fire. That’s about it, frankly, unless I fell asleep, which is likely.”
Nico described the film like so:
“[It’s] an important film, a great film. It concerns the fragility of life. The film treats the story of a lunatic who starts to kill all of his sheep. It is not clear if he is a shepherd or a prince. He has no identity until I show up [of course!]. I am a queen on a journey. A queen finds a kingdom wherever she goes. There are more songs than dialogue in the film which I think is a good idea [of course!].
In the case of La Cicatrice Intérieure, she’s probably right about that, although the film does have its perplexing, often gorgeous, merits. But don’t take my word for it, La Cicatrice Intérieure is now in the public domain and a kind soul has uploaded it as a gift for Nico fans to download and watch. Yet another absolutely M.I.A. film that you can see without getting up from your seat. La Cicatrice Intérieure was once the litmus test case for obscure, nearly impossible to see movies, but obscure no more, eh?
Below, Nico and Garrel walk across a barren landscape as she yells weird stuff at him in La Cicatrice Intérieure:
“My Only Child” and “All That Is My Own” are heard in the following two sequence. The child is Nico’s son, Ari Boulogne.
Nico has some sort of freak-out while Garrel herds some animals. Then we hear “Abschied.”
In the closing moments of Garrel’s La Cicatrice Intérieure we hear “König,” an amazing song Nico recorded during the sessions for Desertshore with John Cale. This version of “König” can only be heard in the film, although Nico re-recorded the number for her 1985 Camera Obscura album.
Bonus clip: Nico and Philippe Garrel met when she contributed this gorgeous (and heard only in the film) version of “The Falconer” to his 1969 film Le Lit de la vierge, which starred Pierre Clémenti as Jesus: