Swiss artist H.R. Giger has always had an air of performance about him. The man who created the titular Alien produced images so terrifying, beautiful and inexplicable that it was easy to imagine he might be otherworldly himself. Or at least tapped into something supernatural. For a time there were rumours that he was a genuine devil-worshipper, the scary kind, not the sexy California variety. In time that image faded and was replaced by the man who would sue Hollywood and win, eventually.
Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World follows two time tracks, one that brings the past to life and the other which documents what would become the final months of Giger’s life. These two threads finally connect with the opening of the H.R. Giger museum. Interviews with participants in Giger’s bring his life as an ascendent artist to life, footage from films made during this time in his life provide a crucial glimpse of Giger as a young artist. So, throughout the running time of the film, a general portrait of an enigmatic creative is presented.
There are a few attempts made by people in his circle to explain what H.R. Giger created. Early on a psychologist offers a Freudian interpretation of Giger’s reproductive horrors. Celtic Frost frontman Tom Warrior (also Giger’s assistant) offers his own interpretation of the work. He emphasizes the balance between life and death, dark and light in the paintings and drawings. Giger’s manager says that in the early days he worked as if he were possessed by an external force. The implication, of course, is that Giger was in touch with otherworldly forces. Unfortunately, these ideas are merely mentioned and then left behind, none of which are explored in depth.
The strongest part of this documentary is the view of H.R. Giger’s mundane life. Early in the film it becomes clear that the great warlock of legend is not a fan of domestic house keeping. Likewise, he has no interest in keeping a sprawling mansion like you might expect of an artist of his stature, but instead makes the most of his labyrinthine urban home. Equally fascinating is the fact that H.R. Giger is a family business, with everyone from his wife, ex-wife and in-laws doing their bit to support him and the legacy of his art. The fact of that all of these people wear Giger’s stylized pentogram hints at something cultish, but this is never explored either.
Giger’s health is failing throughout the making of the film, and it is clear that the people around him know this is the twilight. Fans meet him at signings and seem to be making their final peace with him as much as gushing about the art. There are moments when Giger explicitly reflects on his approaching end. He expresses a peace with death, but there is little evidence of it around him. At the end of one of these comments, he flashes a wicked smile and it is a refreshing return to the enigmatic artist of legend.
There are many, many questions that this film leaves unanswered. Giger mentions a painful childhood, but little is done to explore that. Giger has a string of failed marriages and there is no mention of the reasons behind his serial separations. The suicide of a former partner is given ample screen time, but no one presses Giger too hard on what it meant for his work. Overall, there is a sense of being respectful for a man near the end of his life. Unfortunately it comes at the expense of probing for insights that perhaps only Giger himself could have offered. This is a film made by a fan for fans, but it doesn’t risk alienating the subject in order to give the fans a richer view of the man who gave the world the enduring terror of the Xenomorph.
I am not wanting an explanation of what H.R. Giger is. As a fan of his art and legacy I know quite well what I see in his decades of work. I had hoped this film, with it’s unprecedented access, would offer a special view of the man behind the darkness. Dark Star does not give fans such as myself the closer look we may have wanted, but it does offer an appropriate and celebratory eulogy for a vision that has now gone infinitely dark.