Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World

Skull and Cross Tomes

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

Dark Star, the title of director Belinda Sallin’s charcoal-colored hagiography, lets you know precisely enough about its subject. Sharing the name with a Grateful Dead song, and, more modernly, a terrifically catchy Polica track, Dark Star knows where to clamp its fangs. Swiss artist Hans Rudolph Giger inspired everything from the storied Alien franchise to countless, uh, Deviant Art accounts. He was a gentle man, we’re told by a myriad of talking heads, whose only darkness came from an unconventional palate. Bulbous heads, mechanical wiring, and anatomically revised bodies find themselves, tethered, within the madhouse of Giger’s massively unbridled portfolio of work.

We’re shown fleeting archival footage of Giger as a younger man; his wisdom already established early in his life. The artist would not be, even as a boy, intimidated by the hood of death. Going as far as to drag a human skull, attached to only a string, behind him as he ran about. This is the sort of macabre and unfiltered imagery that would permeate his later world. Much of Sallin’s film, however, is about an elder Giger. Filmed when he was already in his seventies, the visionary designer warbled his words and flubbed his steps. He walked, cautiously, and spoke little. The wicked and acerbic humor, found in his earlier interviews, absent by way of age. This Giger comprises near 60% of the film, while the other 40% of the documentary contains the existential lollygagging of a director whose goal is to satiate their own artistic desires.

Often times the camera wantonly meanders, filming scratched linoleum and empty staircases. Speaking little to Giger’s legacy, the shots of objects, having little to nothing to do with the Swiss artist’s work, fill the running time of the documentary. These superfluous establishing shots of cities and floors are present much too often, giving the viewer time to think of things outside of the film. Because Giger seems conspicuously weary and weak, you assume the position that he may not have been up to the task of talking about himself. At specific points of the doc, he even delegates his ex-wife to tell stories about his paintings as he leaves the room. Considering the daunting task of getting the famed master to stay within feet of the camera, Sallin may have been handcuffed. When Giger is present, we’re given explicit and haunting glimpses into his past. Speaking about Li Tobler, Giger’s late partner, there is a crushing voyeurism that is devastatingly present. It is, without much contention, the most emotionally eviscerating part of Dark Star. People that are only familiar with the artist from his venerable work on Alien, will be disappointed that the documentary hopscotches the topic nearly altogether. There are only few moments spent, discussing his involvement with the movie, that give way expositions about his influence on a metal band. His later work in the film industry isn’t even tapped, as Sallin continuously revisits the dilapidated exterior of his museum instead.

Dark Star does show an admirable amount of Giger’s work, but without much back story to accompany the pieces. For those unfamiliar with the man, this may prove to be frustrating. With some sad, stationary shots of Giger surrounded by his work, Sallin manages to capture some ethereal pain and pride. As an introduction to the Swiss sculptor and painter, Dark Star is a documentary in need of a compass. Even fans immersed with the artist may still find themselves lost in space, wondering why so little time is spent digging deeper. Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World – now playing at Landmark’s Ken Cinema – is a boat in search of an oar.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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