H. R. Giger passed away a year ago this week. His biomechanical art is instantly recognizable–Egyptian and yet otherworldly, simultaneously erotic and repulsive; a combination of flesh, alloy, suppurations, and vertebral forms. His design work on Ridley Scott’s Alien made him a major figure in pop culture, and his influence will likely endure for decades to come.
Belinda Sallin’s documentary Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World features footage of Giger in his final weeks of life. I went in hoping there’d be some final statement or new revelation about Giger and his work, maybe a ruminative appreciation from fans or some reflections from the master of the dark fatanstique himself.
Not really, not quite.
Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (Dark Star: HR Giger’s Welt)
Director: Belinda Sallin
Release Date: May 15, 2015 (limited)
Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World is a fans-only sort of film. His art is striking, imposing, especially given the sheer size and scope of it. Even Giger’s oversized art books like Necronomicon I or Necronomicon II–essential texts for fans of dark fantasy who came of age in the 80s and 90s–can’t begin to convey the scale. In one room of the Giger Museum, the walls are covered in an ornate tableau of pale cyborg women worshiping Baphomet; a recurring motif of columns topped with the heads of babies look like rows of necrotic phalluses, and any gap in a wall is a potential mechanoid vagina. The film doesn’t give much of a scaffold of appreciation for non-Giger fans, though, or any sense of his position as a figure in the underground and punk/new wave movement, or just how many people have been influenced by his creations.
The archival footage that shows Giger creating his artwork is more illuminating than the comments from friends and family. The commentary about his art is the same series of platitudes that have been said about Giger for years: darkness, a technological and organic blend, ugly eroticism, the night of the soul. Even as a fans-only proposition, Dark Star tells Giger fans things they’ve known for years rather than adding new dimensions or depth.
When we see a young Giger work, there’s excitement even if the footage is familiar. He allows images to spray out quickly from his subconscious onto paper through an airbrush. He doesn’t sketch ahead of time but simply lets the images flow from him, as if any additional intermediary between brain, ink, and surface would occlude the process of rendering his multi-textured dream world.
It’s a tragic counterpoint to the elderly Giger. Gargle-voiced and hunched over, his demeanor suggests he’s been hobbled by a stoke in old age. He struggles to sign his name, and his speech has a labored quality. He wanders his home, which is domestic in some parts and Giger-esque in others. I wish Dark Star had explored the Giger house and its layout in greater detail since it seems like his home is his entire world; it’s not Harlan Ellision’s eccentric abode (aka The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars), but it does have a train track and a dining room fit for xenomorph royalty. For some artists, the space in which they work is a manifestation of the interior world that makes the work possible.
The only art Giger creates for Sallin’s camera is a pencil sketch of a familiar form–the delineation of a phallus maybe, the suggestion of a passage possibly, the general enticement of sex. But the sketch is only a wireframe rather than a fully realized idea. Giger may be in pain as he speaks, which is why so much of the talking is done by others for him in the documentary. He smiles, though, and when Giger smiles, there’s a genuine warmth to it. It’s like watching the last glimmers of light in a darkening room.