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Review: ‘Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World’

dark star hr giger

Last May, the world lost one of its most transgressive and influential artists in H.R. Giger, a Swiss man who changed cinema and with it, popular culture. A year after his death, Bellinda Sallin’s documentary Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World has arrived, an illuminating and bewitching look at his life, work and family.

H.R. Giger is a controversial figure; his art certainly isn’t easy to take, nor is it easy to forget. His gothic biomechanical men and women are unmistakable, foreshadowing a fascination with a merging of man and machine that’s far more than just a sub-genre of sci-fi. His tableaus represent life’s essential continuum: the interconnectedness and inextricable links between birth, sex and death, phallus and yoni galore. His work is often considered pornographic, and it’s certainly gloriously weird, but most of all: it’s disturbing. His work is scary, which is precisely why he became the man who created the Xenomorph, the most iconic movie monster in the history of film.

In Dark Star, we get unparalleled access to this visionary on the doorstep of the afterlife and a glimpse into his close-knit team that surrounds him throughout the day. Except, of course, when he disappears into the walls of his sufficiently creepy home. As his assistant notes, when Giger doesn’t want to be found, there’s no finding him. His house is exactly what you expect (and want). There are hardly any lights. Books are strewn everywhere, omnipresent and non-discriminatory as to their location, be it bookshelves, walls or bath tubs. He has a hand-made railway in his back yard that’s essentially a ride at a H.R. Giger amusement park, or perhaps more aptly described as a house of horrors.

Dark Star is full of fascinating home videos, featuring Giger’s original workshop, and the first gallery he ever appeared in. We even glimpse Ridley Scott, on the set of Alien, describing how he fell out of his chair when Dan O’Bannon handed him his art (the pair met on Jodorowsky’s Dune), knowing it was perfect. The documentary beautifully comes full circle, with footage from the 1998 opening of the incredible H.R. Giger Museum and astounding bar accompaniment.

Fans of the artist already know the themes inherent in his work, his history and his museum and bar. But Dark Star offers insight into the man himself, by way of his loyal team, which includes his wife Carmen, assistants, agent, manager and of course, his cat Müggi (the third). Giger himself proves almost elusive, enigmatic and mysterious, playing into the persona of a larger than life, semi-reclusive artist. But it’s clear how much his people love, admire and revere Giger. Tom Fischer in particular, his long-time assistant and pioneer of death metal, tears up when describing the impact Giger had, clearly a mentor for him. But there are certainly scars in Giger’s past. His exes talk about how his work comes first and how he was difficult to deal with when he wasn’t working. He never got over the suicide of his life partner Li Tobler, and had trouble talking about it forty years later.

Fittingly, Dark Star is consumed with death.

Dark Star exactingly cuts into Giger’s work and its manifestation. When he was a kid, Giger went to a museum and was terrified by a mummy on exhibit. His sister’s incessant teasing became a defining moment. He returned to the museum, week after week, to stare at the mummy, until he was scared no longer.

His art and life has always been about overcoming his fears. He was scared of what he saw and what he draw, and putting these startling images on the canvas was the only way Giger could conquer his nightmares.

In Dark Star, we see a man on the brink, fully aware what his next (and final) stage is. This was a man who flaunted death his entire career, but was no longer afraid of it. A man who inspired people to stare into death, to flirt with it and to seek its understanding, now unflinchingly stared at his own. On the subject of his own passing, Giger believes that there’s nothing after death. And he’s thankful for that. He’s seen all he wants to see, has done and shown everything he wanted. Not many can say the same, and that’s one of the many reasons why H.R. Giger is such a singular human being. Ironically, for an artist, there is life after death, and for Giger that is no different. With his prints, the Alien franchise, his museum or the infinite number of films that have been influenced by his style, Giger has an everlasting legacy, one in which Dark Star perfectly encapsulates.

For a list of playdates across the U.S., click here. If you happen to be in LA, Landmark’s Nuart Theatre, will be showing the film through Thursday, May 21, 2015 for an exclusive one-week engagement.  Showtimes: Fri-Mon at 12:30, 2:50, 5:10, 7:30, 9:50; Tue-Thu at 5:10, 7:30, 9:50. Landmark’s Nuart Theatre is at 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of the 405 Freeway, in West Los Angeles.