Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World Dir. Belinda Sallin

[Icarus Films; 2015]

Styles: documentary
Others: Jodorowsky’s Dune, Alien, Species

How to demystify the intentionally mysterious? H.R. Giger’s art (often labeled “biomechanic”) is a nightmare-infused display of birth, death, and sexuality, usually all co-existing within the same work. It draws from both anatomy and mechanical blueprints in its creation of gray-toned landscapes populated by impossible creatures that are equally gorgeous and grotesque. If these images come from Giger’s own unconscious, how does one go about explaining the art? Belinda Sallin’s Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World doesn’t truly attempt at offering an explanation, just an examination of the man behind it. Unfortunately, it also fails to truly show much of that man except to use his cluttered home as an extension of that darkened psyche. At best, the film is a gathering of Giger’s works through the years that inadvertently shines a light on the recurring themes on which he dwelled. But there are too many omissions of important works, too little dissection of his art, and too infrequent a descent into his biography to make it much more than just a film version of a coffee table book.

Giger first became internationally famous thanks to his design work on Ridley Scott’s Alien, including the titular creature. He had been working prior to that (most notably on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted Dune film, which this documentary never touches on despite it’s integral role in getting Giger work on Scott’s film), and had put out a collection that had made some noise in the art community, but Alien is truly where Giger exploded onto the scene, winning an Oscar and an international group of fans. In fact, Aliens is so seminal to his legend and his popularity that the xenomorph shows up in all different shapes and formats throughout this documentary — enough times that it deserves a co-starring credit. However, the artist’s other creatures are omitted here: Giger also designed the creature for Species — admittedly a crap film — it as well as a nightmare sequence wholly different than most seen before or since; yet there is only an offhanded reference to that film and his involvement in it. His work has been influential inside and outside Hollywood since the late 70s, yet there is no discussion of how his aesthetic has inspired so many artists and filmmakers.

Instead, we’re presented with a portrait of an artist as an old man, sitting amongst his near-hoarder level of books, art, skulls, and other detritus and macabre artifacts he’s made or acquired over the years. Perhaps in showing him doddering around his St. Germain chateau, Sallin meant to humanize a figure who is pretty easy to depict as a shadowy soul, but it’s never been clear that Giger the man needed such humanizing as much as his work needing some illuminating. But director Sallin seems mostly uninterested in examining those elements of Giger’s art. Friends, business associates, assistants, and curators discuss the themes that run through the artist’s oeuvre, but only a soundbite at a time, with most echoing the others about the recurring motifs of birth, sex, and death comingling in one image.

If Sallin isn’t interested in distilling the art, or examining the process (at best, audiences get a secondhand report that Giger draws what he does because it terrifies him and he needs to exorcise it from his mind), then what is she interested in? The biographical elements here are scattershot and non-linearly introduced, which is an interesting and novel way of presenting them. However, there’s still too little information being conveyed about the man’s life. Some elements get a spotlight on them, like the suicide of a former lover, his work on Alien, or his relationship with his parents (and a sister that is literally mentioned once). Perhaps those are the three seminal moments in Giger’s life, but for a man who lived 74 years and found acclaim midway through his life, there’s bound to be more to the story.

Or maybe there isn’t and that’s the point. Sallin’s film, which completed shooting shortly before Giger’s death, feels incomplete and unfocused. It’s meant to act as an overview yet there are huge gaps present in that capacity. It’s meant to act as an insight into a man, but the elderly Giger is not the same as his younger self, seemingly done with painting at his advanced age and left only to casually sketch at his leisure. The audience is told again and again how important and singular his creations are, but there’s no context with which to judge these statements. Surely there have been imitators that have come after? Surely there were polar opposites popular at the same time in which to contrast his work and set it above or beyond the societal norm. Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World is a quiet documentary about a man who provided nightmarish visions of beauty to the world, yet it never matches the intricacy or uniqueness of its central figure and thus seems to fail at all but a cursory introduction to the man’s work.

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