Everything about him was otherworldly: his chiaroscuric, elfin mien; the slow-motion robotic movements; that voice which ranged from the guttural to soaring soprano. Klaus Nomi burst upon the downtown Manhattan scene in the 1980s, attracting dropped jaws on the street and, eventually, a sizeable following for his unique music stylings and stage persona.

Andrew Horn's documentary The Nomi Song is a vivid portrait, not only of the man, but of an era, an era in which creativity ruled in a New York which, for all its vicissitudes, was far more welcoming to artists than it is now, with the triumph of real estate and the malling-over of everything young misfits once moved here for. Nomi, born in 1944, came from Essen, Germany, where his early influences ranged from Elvis Presley to Maria Callas. He made his official New York debut at the "New Wave Vaudeville Show," knocking a roomful of New Wavers and punks dead with a rendition of an operatic aria from Samson and Delilah. Horn has culled interviews from many survivors of the period-Ann Magnuson, who produced that show; Nomi's performance collaborators Page Wood, Man Parrish and Kristian Hoffman; manager Ron Johnsen; artist Kenny Sharf and others-which bring that vibrant, bubbling era to life.

Much rare performance footage preserves Nomi's surreal stage effect, which could take on an even-more-androgynous-than-Dietrich Weimar flavor, or his preferred Creature from Outer Space. His was definitely a unique talent, especially screeching a New Wave version of Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes"-which others, like Grace Jones, imitated-but, even today, his utter bizarreness would be hard to market. This was always the problem for him in America. When Nomi went to Paris, his long-yearned-for success was finally his, with two hit albums and fanatically devoted audiences. Sadly, he was not to enjoy that for very long, as he died of AIDS in 1983, one of the earliest victims of what was then terrifyingly called "gay cancer."

Parrish recalls seeing Nomi "doing his thing" in the notorious sex trucks and piers of New York, and this sexual avidity, along with his passion for pastry-making, is one of the film's few insights into the man behind the makeup. For all the film's loving care and research, Nomi remains something of an enigma, the kind of essentially lonely, eternally partner-less soul who seemed to exist most fully on stage.