Films

Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (2015) Documentary Film Review

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Belinda Sallin’s Dark Star begins emerging through an overgrowth of trees and ivy creeping slowly to a house that could easily be mistaken as abandoned in the midst of Zurich, Switzerland.
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The camera briefly lingers at the front door that slowly opens to reveal a second entrance which, fully painted with chilling but strangely elegant ‘biomechanoid’ forms is a warning of what is to come.
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The camera pans through rooms of wall to wall paintings, sculpture and artefacts mingling organic, mechanical yet sensual fantasy imagery that, like any bad nightmare can feel alarmingly real.
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This home is the centre of the Late Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” (H.R.) Giger’s world and for 95 minutes Sallin steps into the surrealist artist and sci-fi visionary’s life story as he lived within his work, surrounded by a close group of family, friends and a dynasty of loyal cats.
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I’m sure for many, like myself, its hard think of the extra-terrestrial the same way again after watching Alien. The iconic Xenomorph and its incredibly creepy bursting eggs, won Giger an Oscar in 1980 and can undoubtedly still provide many a sleepless night to first time viewers today. Even after I began to research Giger and appreciate his artwork it’s still a wonder what mind such a creature could spawn from.

Yet Giger deserves far more credit than just for creating a monster, albeit one of movie legend. He worked in sculpture, painting and architecture obsessively creating work that can simultaneously repulse and mesmerise. Much of his art depicts organic forms in birth and death penetrated into machines to make up tapestries that look like sacred motifs from some other, darker world. Sallin’s documentary explores Giger’s experiences, ideas and the people throughout his life that shaped his work and identity. Though generally this is told via a general timeline, it is done so jumping between old and new footage of Giger at work and in interviews. Similarly his work ethic and processes (much of his airbrush painting is impressively freehand) are also revealed in this way through various clips from different decades.

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Elderly and visibly very frail at the time of filming (he sadly died shortly after the shoot had finished), Giger gives limited insight personally from the 2014 footage. Instead, much of his story is provided by interviews with family and other members of Giger’s tight-knit inner circle. Though eccentric, a recluse he was not, as friends, assistants and even ex-partners alike would drop in from day to day and be warmly received.

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When filming within Giger’s home, the camera curiously moves in first person to explore each compartment, cautiously turning each corner to potentially reveal more beautifully decorated walls or indeed just disturb Giger’s cat Müggi III.

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Besides his skull collection and novel use of a bath tub, the garden is perhaps the most intriguing part of his home. This was where Giger built his own ‘Ghost Ride’; surrounded by large looming trees the train’s route is decorated with characteristic Giger babies and spinal cord archways. Towards the end of the film, the viewer is given a ride through the track by Giger. It is the more humorous elements such as this that I feel are particularly effective as they reveal lesser known elements to his character.

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Giger comes across as a quite a modest individual who invested everything into his endeavours and did so with integrity, not producing something that simply intended to disgust but rather to confront and overcome his own fears. This crucial aspect to his art and motivation is told refreshingly through interviewees’ stories including Giger’s own reflections on his first skull and the nightmares that he described would render him unable to breath.

Keeping up with the timeline can be a bit confusing as decades jump back and forth and as there’s so much to take in as you explore the house with Sallin, a few lines of investigation are cut short maybe too early. In addition some of those interviewed also allude to hordes of old drawings within the house – it would have perhaps been interesting to have seen more of these early works. However these are minor discrepancies as there is much to see and learn for Giger fans. The majority of the documentary is in Swiss German (and some English interviews) with English subtitles that are clear and paced well. Dark Star effectively taps into the sensitive and human side to a driven but troubled mind who worked to confront his inner horrors and satisfy his intense desire to create.

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Sallin provides a warmer and more affectionate account of Giger than I expected and the closeness of those that surrounded him is touching. After decades of dismissal in more elite art circles, Giger’s work as a surrealist artist is now more readily being recognised alongside his fame for designing the creature that so heavily influenced an entire movie genre. Near the film’s close there is a final interview with Giger; as an artist fulfilled and satisfied by his wok, perhaps even finally a master of his fears. A moving end to a documentary that serves as a warm and absorbing tribute to a hugely fascinating and influential artist of modern times.


Switzerland | 95 mins | Color | Documentary

Swiss German with English Subtitles

Opening theatrically in the U.S. and Canada in over 30 cities:

May 15-21 – New York, NY – Landmark Sunshine

May 15-21 – Los Angeles, CA – Landmark NuArt

May 15-21 – San Francisco, CA – Landmark Opera Plaza

May 15-21 – Berkeley, CA – Landmark Shattuck

May 15-21 – Providence, RI – Cable Car Cinema

May 22-28 – Long Beach, CA – The Frida Cinema

May 22-28 – San Diego, CA – Landmark Ken

May 22-28 – Dallas, TX – Texas Theatre

May 23-26 – Austin, TX – Alamo Drafthouse

May 23-28 – Houston, TX – Alamo Drafthouse

May 28 – June 4 – Washington, D.C. – Landmark E St

May 28 – June 4 – Vancouver, BC – The Cinematheque

May 29 – June 4 – Denver, CO – Landmark (TBD)

May 28 – June 4 – Columbus, OH – Gateway Film Center

May 29 – June 4 – Philadelphia, PA – Landmark Ritz

May 28 – May 31 – Fort Worth, TX – Fort Worth Museum of Contemporary Art

View additional theatrical dates here: 

http://icarusfilms.com/playdates.html#dk 

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