THE EFC REVIEW:
Peter Sempel makes one print of a film and then travels around the world showing it. His documentaries are like a who's who of the western and eastern avant-garde intellegentsia. He's researching and documenting a certain kind of person who lives in between worlds, or beyond worlds. People for whom language, geography and culture are meaningless and for whom the human spirit is the only reality.
I was lucky to see Nina Hagen = Punk+Glory at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
I don't know why exactly it showed at the SFGLFF, maybe because Nina Hagen is cool or Sempel said "hey, film festival" and the festival organizers said "hey, Nina Hagen" and cinematic bliss ensued.
I've been a huge fan of Nina Hagen since I poked my mom in the uterus with a spiky mowahk. She's wild, she's brash, she's daring and she's not as flipped out of her gourd as some people think.
Okay, so she's telepathic, been visited by Aliens and is a Hindu/Christian. Makes perfect sense for someone who calls herself the Mother of Punk.
She's totally cosmic and has managed to raise 2 kids. She's concerned that her son, the younger of the two, doesn't speak German because he's being raised in Los Angeles where she now lives. In so many ways she's a typical mom. She cooks dinner, she admonishes, she does laundry, but she also rolls around in the driveway making lots of noises with her mouth while her kid plays nearby. She can make music out of anything. She loves to experiment. I think her whole life is one big experiment in being human. "Oooh. look,, I'm human in this lifetime, isn't this exciting!" There are moments of her on film that are transcendent. Her connection to something greater is genuine and it shows beautifully. When she was dancing in the ocean draped in seaweed,she didn't look like a fool, she looked like part of the ocean, matching its ebb and flow and moving with the sound of the breaking waves. It was as if she was the seaweed, rolling about in the tumbling surf. She was ecstatic and inspired. I was moved by her "performance" of being just who she is. To me that was the value of the documentary, not the footage of previous staged performances.
The film is a documentary mostly about her life as a performer and an artist but also her spiritual life. Its really her spirituality that defines her and makes her art make sense. Now, most people when they hear "spiritual" they think "religious". Nina is more like devoted to the spirit of ... God/Human. After watching this film, I'm convinced she's a saint.
You know, last year was the year of Nina Hagen for me. On my way back from Paris, on the United Airlines flight, one of the in-flight audio programs was a retrospective about ... Nina Hagen! From her early days in East Berlin as a news worthy punk icon (she once masturbated on state television during an interview) through to her more recent rock inspired glamorama.
Many of Nina's friends, including Udo Keir (Dancer in the Dark), George Clinton, Anthony Kiedis and Angelyne are featured either with Nina or talking about her.
The audience I saw the film with was pretty much something like a gathering of die-hard fans. Lots of shaved heads, colored hair and outrageously expressionistic outfits made it a post-punk reunion. I never see these people in San Francisco where I live. I guess it takes the call of the high priestess to gather the tribe.
She still performs, she's come a long way since "New York, New York" or "Universal Radio", two of her big club hits in the mid 80's but she's only gotten more fine, like a 30 year old scotch that still needs another 5 years before its aroma fully ripens into a complex, indescribably musky fruity oaky vanilla, transcending the parts to come together as a unique whole.
I'm glad this film was made. Its there now, for other people to discover for as long as it can be reproduced. She is not prime-time material because she's not an act. If she were just a show, we could watch and know that she takes the costume off, washes her face and slumps down in front of the boob tube. We know that we've just been entertained and can return to the safetey and comfort of our Euclidean Geometry and our Copernican Solar System and our Gods. But there is no Nina behind the orange curtain. We are always backstage and onstage with her.
She challenges our assumptions about life, living and being human. She is designed to be the red herring, the wrench in the gears. That is her art. She is living art. She is still out there, wrenching gears as we speak. You can go to her website, buy her recordings and see her live.