Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World
a film by Belinda Salin
Icarus Films and KimStim Release, 2015
Web: Dark Star Movie
Review by Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray
Dark Star is a film that gives the viewer a highly personal, very raw and honest glimpse into the life of Hans Ruedi Giger near the end of his life. It celebrates his life as much as brings fans to term with an aging beloved artist. In many scenes we see a man who is evidently trapped in a dying, damaged body, there are certain moments you can see it in his eyes how much he struggles with this as his mind is still very sharp, his wit is intact and his artistic brilliance still very present. He shuffles around slowly, his speech a bit muffled from the strokes he has suffered, and sometimes he even looks lost or confused when out of the house. It’s a glance at an artist we so rarely get to see in our ageist society that typically only loves and wishes to see the young and beautiful. Giger, with his slow pace and slightly disheveled hair, has transitioned from being the guy who scared the crap out people with his art and monsters to the eccentric, lovable, sweet old man who you’d love to sit down with and have coffee and cake. It also feels as much a celebration of his life as it is a farewell. With so much footage of older Giger, and given his death shortly after the filming was done, the film provides a sense of closure for fans. By the end, when he talks about how happy he is with his life and what he’s done (and how he never wants to be reincarnated), you are ready to let him go and feel at peace for him and with his passing.
This film is bittersweet and this feeling arises largely because of the juxtaposition of footage of older Giger with plenty of footage of him from the 70’s and 80’s. Surprisingly there is little footage of his midlife, and a better balance might have been struck if the filmmakers had used more. It is in this juxtaposition that you see how much Giger is losing his battle with time; his sun is setting. While you feel sad for Giger that the end of his life is torturous, his brilliant mind trapped in a failing body, you also cannot help but feel a deep sense of gratitude and adoration for what he’s accomplished and the immense influence he has had on contemporary culture and art.
From beginning to end, the film is filled with glimpses of almost every decade of Giger’s art, and every medium he used, both popular pieces and works that are little known. There’s also footage of him airbrushing, drawing and sculpting, always wonderful to watch an artist in his element. About a half hour into the film there are several of Giger’s artworks quickly flashed onto the screen alongside archival photos from wars and bomb explosions with ominous sound effects in the background, which comes across as rather shallow, impersonal and poorly thought out. The order of the pieces is more about the content of image itself and less about the meaning, such as with Giger’s Birth Machine the image prior to it is one of child soldiers from the Vietnam War and the one that follows it is of a soldier in a gasmask. While Birth Machine is an artwork containing a giant gun and loaded bullet babies wearing goggles, the meaning of the piece has to do with overpopulation – a war carried out via the pregnant uterus and not with actual guns, soldiers and slaughter. Giger spoke often about the meaning of Birth Machine and this information is well known by fans of the piece, and is readily available on the internet and in books about his art. So, lurid and erroneous mistakes like this are annoying and leave one wondering if the filmmakers truly understand his art and they disrupt the authenticity and sense of honesty of the film itself. It’s so much more aesthetically pleasing and fulfilling to see Giger create art or to walk through his art with him than to see one of his most well known images misused for anti-war posturing.
Any fan will no doubt enjoy walking with the camera as it tours his wonderful garden, complete with sculptures and a train, an art exhibit of his work, and even a visit to the HR Giger Museum in Gruyeres. It’s absolute bliss to feel as if you are standing in the “Spell Room” with the man who created it (it’s also wonderful to see Giger’s face fill with pleasure when he looks around the room). This intimate perspective the film has is the one of its most enjoyable features because it makes the art a lived experience shared with its creator. When faced with Giger’s ‘life in art’ one feels not only the intensity and breadth of his artistic genius, but that his dark spirit will never die. Giger the man is mortal, but Giger the artist is timeless and will forever haunt us all.
My only other criticisms, the white subtitles often get lost when placed over light colours, and the captions identifying people interviewed are sometimes in German and sometimes in English. Offering both would have been better.
It is immense fun to wander around his house is a wonderful labyrinth-like place filled to the brim with artworks, books and curiosities, as if you’re visiting there in person. The documentary is filmed in a highly intimate style, communicating a very strong feeling of inclusion. It is a warm and inviting look at Giger and the group of wonderful people in his life who watch over him and his legacy. There’s a lot of love and support in that house, and he was so lucky for that.
In fact, love is a feeling that pervades this film. Giger’s wife and the directress of the HR Giger Museum, Carmen, is a constant loving presence. She’s a beautiful, warm and intelligent woman who possesses a deep understanding of and admiration for his works and genius. In the one-on-one interviews with Carmen, Giger’s past partners, friends and colleagues, you see that he is surrounded by a wonderful supportive network of people who love him dearly. There is also Müggi III, the Siamese cat, who follows him about like a loyal, loving minion. At a book signing you see how much his fans adore him in their words of thanks, their fantastic tattoos, and one fellow even moved to tears when meeting Giger. At one point, Giger speaks of the 1975 suicide of Li Tobler, his early muse and famous love of his life. Watching him talk about this time in his life, how much he loved her and how painful it was to lose her, it is quite evident that her death still haunted him. In his struggle to tell this story you clearly see the feelings of guilt and helplessness he still holds, but his perseverance in sharing it shows a wish to exorcise this old demon from his heart. It’s both touching and heartbreaking to watch the profound emotions Giger displays here.
Dark Star is a must watch for any fan of Giger’s art and film work. When watched with other documentaries and short films featuring Giger, it completes the portrait of his life by revealing the story of his final years and his personal thoughts on the life he’s lived and created.
See the trailer for Dark Star on Vimeo.
North American theatrical release dates are available here. This list is constantly updated and will include June shortly.
European theatrical release dates can be found here.
Keep up with all the latest news and release dates on the Dark Star FB page.
HR Giger Documentary Film Festival, Museum of Arts and Design in NYC
May 22nd & 23rd, 2015
The Unseen Cinema of HR Giger
Rare Documentaries & Short Films
Five Hours, Three Separate Rooms, Thirteen Films
“Marking the one-year anniversary of his passing, the Museum of Arts and Design presents The Unseen Cinema of HR Giger. Partnering with the HR Giger estate and the HR Giger Documentary Film Festival, this weekend-long event presents rare and never before seen films made by and about HR Giger.”
Watch the trailer for the film festival on Vimeo here.