The world of H.R. Giger is a dark one. The camera follows the 74-year-old artist shuffling around his own personal catacomb, the shutters are drawn, the walls are painted black, and the portions that aren’t are covered in Giger’s infamous paintings. Giger says little (and when he does speak, he does with a crackling grovel) as a bevy of admirers and assistants dote on him and help their visionary soothsayer through his day-to-day activities. This is what a lifetime of iconic imagery will get you.
Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World isn’t a cradle-to-grave documentary about the infamous gothic designer but a portrait of the artist as an old man. Director Belinda Sallin was granted access to follow Giger around as he prepared to open his own museum in Zürich. Along the way, Sallin gathers interviews from Giger’s third wife and museum director, Carmen, assistants, biographers, and fans to give an impression of who Giger is and where these iconic and often erotic images come from.
If there is a clear-cut answer or inspiration for Giger’s images, Sallin doesn’t divulge it; instead opting for plenty of footage of Giger contemplating his work. Contemplating, but never vocalizing. It is not up to the artist to explain their work. However, Dark Star seems to suggest that not even Giger is sure where they come from.
Hans Rudolf Giger was born in Switzerland in 1940, and by 1969 Giger had blazed his own path with poster making. That success caught the attention of Chilean surrealist, Alejandro Jodorowsky who hired Giger to work on his monumental film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel, Dune. Dune never made it past the development stages (excellently chronicled in last year’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune), but all of that hard work didn’t go to waste, and Ridley Scott, thanks to a suggestion from Dan O’Bannon, saw Giger’s Necronomicon and tapped him to design the Xenomorphs for Alien.
Alien was a smash, and Giger’s design would continue to haunt the subsequent films as well as those who watched them over and over again. Artists from movies, music, and design discovered Giger’s images and utilized them, and him, for the remainder of his career. Giger continued to work, paint, sculpt and promote his work until his death in 2014.
However, this is about all Dark Star has to offer the audience. Giger himself offers stories from his first two marriages, while friends and family confess the significance of Giger’s work to them. There are instances where Giger’s work is contextualized, but largely Dark Star is about following Giger as he shuffles around his studio/home in Switzerland. There is some lovely footage of Giger riding his homemade narrow-gauge-train set around his backyard, but for a 95-minute documentary, it all feels fairly thin.
For hardcore Giger fans, Dark Star is essential viewing, though I doubt there is anything here that isn’t already known. For those who have no interest in Giger or his work, there isn’t much in Dark Star that will convince them otherwise, but for those Alien fanatics who somehow missed Giger’s work, this is the documentary that will drive them to check out The Necronomicon and maybe even visit his museum in Zürich. For Sallin, I’m sure that’s the goal.
Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (2014)
Written and Directed by: Belinda Sallin
Produced by: Marcel Hoehn
Starring: H.R. Giger
Icarus Films, Not Rated, Running time 95 minutes, Opens May 22, 2015.