Dark Star: H.R. Giger's Welt (2015) Review
Even if you don’t think you know H. R. Giger, you do. At the very least, most people are familiar with the creatures he designed for Alien—for which he won an Oscar—as well as for Prometheus. It recently came to light in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune that the mystical filmmaker was actually the first to consider using Giger for artistic direction in a film, and that after Hollywood dismissed Dune as too radical, they farmed out Giger and the rest of Jodorowsky’s creative team to numerous other projects. Thus Giger’s designs for the dark Harkonnen family were reappropriated for use in the Alien franchise.
But there is so much more to this artist than his bit role in the dramas of filmmaking. Giger was a sculptor, a painter, and an architect of tremendous depth and skill. He was so prolific that he has a museum dedicated only to his work, a bar named after him (the interior of which he designed), and a home bursting at the seams with art repressed, tucked away in the cracks, having never met eyes other than his. He is a treasure trove, a man plagued by dreams, nightmares, and the haunting imagery of the collective unconscious. He is driven by a force that surpasses his own reason or desires. He simply channels.
Bellinda Sallin’s documentary about him does the only thing it properly should: fawn. The work is already there, and there is really nothing a filmmaker can do, or needs to, besides stare. To this end, the camera work is graciously motivated and beautifully crisp. Between panning over entire murals and pausing to take in barely noticeable garden details, we get a full sense of appreciation for the craft and skill involved in each work. A wonderful bonus to having all this footage is that it allows the editor to deftly cut between Giger’s own facial expressions, or objects that inspired certain pieces, to the pieces themselves, which allows us to draw our own conclusions about their connections. Together, Birgit Munsch’s editing and Eric Stitzel’s cinematography create a haven for endless interpretation.
But that's not all there is to this moving portrait. There’s plenty of interesting backstory about how Giger got into his art (he even shows us his very first skull, given to him by his father when he was six), and how he evolved over the years. Most importantly we learn that many of his visions were informed by his deep connections to flesh and blood humans. From his multiple partnerships to his close relationship with his parents, we get a sense of Giger as a true family man, a normal Joe with little ego. This makes the ending all the more poignant.
We know it’s coming. We know Giger passed away last year. As we listen to him struggling to gargle and spit his way through basic sentences, as we hold our own breath waiting uncomfortably for him to resume breathing, as we see him sweating and straining his neck until it looks like one of his biomechanoid demons, we know that this can’t last. Fortunately for us, his last moments are handled with enormous respect and intimacy. For me, this was the director's most lasting impression.
If you want to see a visionary at work, see this documentary. If you want to see how deeply such a visionary can touch lives, see this documentary. If you are brave enough to stare into the eyes of your own psyche, see this documentary. You will be doing yourself a favor in the end, because there is darkness in all of us. Only few are strong of heart enough to embrace it.