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Entries in Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World [2015] (1)


Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World (2015)

Deep Spaces

When it comes to movies, I often wonder if I've been registered for some cosmic version of the Amazon Wish List. In the last few years, documentary filmmakers have put together beautiful, intimate portraits of the artists and writers I grew up admiring. Between Gonzo (Hunter S. Thompson), For No Good Reason (Ralph Steadman), Jodorowsky's Dune,* and now Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World,** my geek verite film festival is complete--and there's not a stinker in the bunch. Dark Star is the capper, an oddly joyous look at a man who didn't so much channel his dark side as report back from it.

"Dark" may be the wrong word, even though we're talking about the visionary designer of Dan O'Bannon and Ridley Scott's alien. Sure, one might glance at a series of Giger paintings and decide that his motif of phallus-domed babies worshipping glassy-eyed, biomechanoid sex goddesses is the work of the devil, but that's a superficial assessment; the painter's aesthetic is so chilling in its layers, depth, and realism, that the works appear to be photographs from another dimension--a dimension in which bodies and architecture meld into shapes that give us the willies. That's evil only insofar as the viewer considers the new and the strange to be antithetical to God, ostensibly the same omnipotent God who made Giger's work possible.

Writer/director Belinda Sallin establishes her theme of otherworldly sanctuary from the get-go, guiding us through Zürich woods and up to a nondescript house with "No 1" spray-painted on the front door. Inside, the familiar greenery gives way to a different aesthetic entirely: a hoarder's paradise of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and furniture whose uniform design sensibilities feel completely foreign but no less natural. Giger's home is a labyrinthine series of staircases and small, black-painted rooms. The bathtub overflows with books, and his dining room looks like Ed Debevic's on LV-426.

Like latter-day Hunter Thompson, Giger hosts friends and family at his home. People buzz about, talking about this project or that, putting books in front of him to sign and talking to the camera about how influential the Oscar-winning artist was in supporting their own creative efforts. Sallin drops in archival footage of a slim, young Giger, dressed all in black and radiating intensity from his piercing, low-brow eyes. We see him working on massive paintings, and sculpting costumes and sets on Alien, all with mad, whipping gestures that seem at once out of control and precisely honed from decades of training. It's a stark contrast to the modern-day Giger, who looks to have suffered a stroke. His intensity bursts against a frail, shambling body with less and less capacity to serve his visions.

I don't want to ruin the film's insights, as you should have the benefit of rediscovering Giger's work armed with Sallin's new and fascinating context. One of the benefits of this new wave of loving, obsessive documentaries is that the camera pans, pauses, hovers, and zooms in on details as we listen to the creators (or those that knew them) talk about incidents that became themes, and ask questions that can only be answered by scrutinizing the work. Dark Star is part immersive art lecture, part portal into the gentle but troubled soul of a man whose art still elicits suspicions, assumptions, and debate. Before watching this movie, I'd partially written off Giger as a repetitive genius, a master craftsman who'd simply stuck with a style. Dark Star pushed me down the rabbit hole, forcing me to appreciate the finest, hidden details and meaning in a way that even the fanciest books or prints couldn't do justice.

Giger died shortly after wrapping the film, but Sallin doesn't make a big deal of it--in keeping, I suspect, with what the artist would have wanted. When asked about mortality towards the end of the film, Giger staunchly proclaimed that this life is all we have, and that he was content to have squeezed every ounce of experience and creativity from it. The film closes with Giger getting up quietly from a lively dinner party and shuffling off into some dark corner of his house; perhaps to sleep; perhaps to take another snapshot of his reality that will inevitably make us question our own.

*In truth, I had no idea who Alejandro Jodorowsky was before watching the movie. But his failed adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel involved a fantasy-football league of my childhood heroes--including H.R. Giger.

**The title at the beginning of the film actually translates to "H.R. Giger's Universe", which would have been a much more accurate and exciting name for this release.