Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (Icarus Films, NR)

darkstar 75The film is a sort of collage of bits and pieces of information about Giger, which is as often frustrating as it is enlightening.




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If you’ve seen any of the Alien films (and if you care about film, you almost certainly have), you’re already familiar with the work of the Swiss artist H. R. Giger, whose art formed the basis for the Oscar-winning visual effects design of the first film. Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World, a documentary directed by Belinda Sallin, gives you a look not only of Giger’s publicly-known art, but also of the amazing installations (for lack of a better word) in the private spaces of his house and yard.

Giger is known for his willingness to go where most would fear to tread, creating a world peopled with “biomechanoid” monsters blending features of animals, insects, humans, and machine. There’s a certain consistency about Giger’s creatures (you can always recognize his work) because they come from a unified vision of a dark (and often weirdly sexual) dream world that has the ability to trigger fears and memories we usually do our best to keep out of our conscious minds.

Giger’s home sculptures are amazing: rows of creepy, doll-like creatures, a fountain topped with a humanoid torso, a model train with a cargo of skulls and rib cages, and odd fragments of what might be imagined reptiles. A miniature train runs through his garden, completing the sense of a totally imagined world, and this visit to his private space helps to illuminate his artistic visions. Many talking heads also pop up to discuss Giger’s art, including family members, his agent, and a psychiatrist friend, but the real strength of the film comes from seeing the art rather than hearing people try to explain it.

Many have noted the dreamlike sense often present in Giger’s work, and this film does nothing to discourage that connection. Early on, it quotes a much-younger Giger ruminating on dreams and their relation to his work, who notes that “Waking up can be a bitter experience” and that “Pretty much everyone has dreams, but few people have the courage to try to tell people about them or to try and depict them because of their inhibitions.”

Giger was in poor health at the time of the filming (he died in 2014), and it can be painful to hear him struggle to express himself or to move about his own home. The film also feels padded, including too many mundane details (at one point the camera follows Giger onto an airplane as he travels to visit an exhibit of his work—not sure what that particular sequence was meant to illuminate). At the same time, the film raises points that it fails to explore in adequate detail—for instance, did the young Giger have ambitions to be a more conventional artist, and how has his relationship with the art world changed over the years? As it is, the film is a sort of collage of bits and pieces of information about Giger, which is as often frustrating as it is enlightening.

On the plus side, there are interesting clips showing a young Giger and his early artwork (much of which was more geometric and conventional than his designs for Alien) and documenting the production design process for Alien (some of the latter was also included as an extra on the DVD release of Alien). The real selling point of the film, however, is the chance to see the art on display in Giger’s home (both his own works and others that serve as inspiration). In the end, Dark Star is a film that fans of his work will want to see, but that doesn’t offer much in the way of revelations or insights to attract viewer who are not already Giger fans.

Dark Star is distributed on VOD (street date of August 18) and DVD (street date of September 1) by Icarus Films, and will also have a limited theatrical release. Extras on the DVD include a making-of featurette (10 min.), four photo galleries, and a booklet including a brief essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri. | Sarah Boslaugh

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