Studio: Icarus Films
Director: Belinda Sallin
Writer: Belinda Sallin
Producer: Marcel Hoehn
Stars: H.R. Giger, Carmen Maria Giger, Stanislav Grof, Hans H. Kunz, Leslie Barany, Tom Gabriel Fischer, Carmen Scheifele De Vega, Paul Tobler, Mia Bonzanigo, Andreas J. Hirsch, Marco Witzig, Sandra Beretta
H.R. Giger, his family, and members of his inner circle discuss the artist’s work and the unique visions behind their creation.
“Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World” opens quietly, with a docile housecat prowling casually around the sleepy exterior of a white house fit for any average Midwestern cul-de-sac. Hardly the home one might expect of a man known for interests involving thematic darkness, occult imagery, and the characteristic quirk of dressing exclusively in black.
Inside, the setting starts making more sense. Moving past murals of biomechanical goddesses adorned with phallic skulls and deformed cherubs, sounds are heard of gently creaking floors and bare feet shuffling slowly across hardwood. A noticeably aged H.R. Giger ambles without urgency into a leather chair where he sketches a mushroom with seeming indifference before introducing a bookcase-housed collection of human skulls. Just an ordinary day for the surrealist artist as he stares down his twilight in fearlessly innocuous fashion.
Unbeknownst at the time, Giger was on the last of his 74 mortal years during filming, leaving the camera to capture a clearly weary and sadly frail visage of a man previously imposing in both size and stature. With health presumably limiting his availability, if not his interest too, “Dark Star” is almost scandalously scant on autobiographical contributions. Blanks are therefore left to be filled by ex-partners, assistants, and various inner circle members who intersperse occasional anecdotes about Giger himself, but chiefly philosophize about the mindset and process that goes into creating his pieces.
“Dark Star” is not for neophytes. Frequently wordless, the documentary is confident in deliberately deciding to not hold the viewer’s hand through the narrative and to presume familiarity with at least the broader strokes of Giger’s basic biography. Li Tobler, with whom Giger had a nine-year relationship before her tragic suicide, is not actually introduced by name. The segue into that segment comes as a cut to a still frame montage of a much younger Giger with a woman clearly not his current wife. Giger speaks of the initially unidentified person with pained consternation, although it is difficult to tell if his heart remains heavy or if this owes more to his failing physicality. The first direct mention of Li comes from her brother Paul’s inclusion as a follow-up interviewee. In instances such as this, it is up to the viewer to put together the pieces not provided.
Even that dark lowlight is used as an illustrative point in outlining how life events specifically affected Giger’s output. “H.R. Giger’s World” ends up fitting as an apt subtitle since “Dark Star” focuses less on the man and more on the motivations molding his body of work. Rather than a “This Is Your Life” retrospective, the concentration is on the universe created within and around H.R. Giger’s artistry.
Talking heads wax poetically about symbolism involving prenatal trauma, concurrent life and death juxtaposition, and “tapestries of suffering fetuses and demonic women.” Yet when pressed about interpretation, Giger himself responds along the lines of, “I just liked the way it looked.” The private tour of his inner sanctum and brief behind-the-scenes glimpse is intriguing. But aficionados anxious for a revelatory peek inside the art icon’s creative brilliance may be disappointed to discover how much of his genius owes simply to serendipitous stream of consciousness.
Filmmaker Belinda Sallin constructs an unusual portrait of a unique personality, with a jazzy prog rock score seemingly stripped from a 1970s giallo film offering an oddly appropriate undercurrent. At times going out of its way to not look like a tame episode of “Hoarders,” the film cuts and careens around the clutter of Giger’s dimly lit domicile to present as many candid moments as possible. Whether Giger is guiding his wife on what she can and cannot say on camera, or Muggi the pet cat playfully distracts an interviewee, Sallin does all she can to be intimate without being invasive. However, cutaways of drooping eyelids and gingerly repositioned postures routinely remind that this is not an overly accessible Giger, serving as Sallin’s simultaneous surrender that her efforts can only take “Dark Star” as far as its centerpiece will allow.
Archival film makes up some of the difference. Of course, apposite allotments of time are given to notable chapters such as Giger’s significant contributions to the “Alien” franchise. Yet Sallin demonstrates an awareness of keeping his career in perspective. By nature of its construction, “Dark Star” makes clear that while his “Alien” design brought Giger international celebrity, no individual piece defines his work, nor is that work overshadowed by any singular accomplishment.
The movie’s shortfalls as an informational documentary earn some leniency because this is likely the last feature-length look there will ever be on H.R. Giger. Although light on introspective insight, the 90-minute capsule examination of Giger’s timelessly fascinating vision is of infinite interest to stalwart patrons of his distinctive style. Casual fans may be confused by the film’s avoidance of A&E-like storytelling conventions, but “Dark Star” possesses reverential spirit enabling easy appreciation of H.R. Giger’s extraordinarily inimitable universe.
Review Score: 80