Belinda Sallin’s film serves as a eulogy for Swiss artist H.R. Giger, paying tribute to the man whom most know, if not by name, then by his most popular creation: the titular creature of 1979’s Alien, which he designed along with other elements of the film. However, Giger is more than his singular contribution to the science-fiction genre; he has lead a full life and it is here that we find Sallin’s main interests. Not only does Dark Star chronicle Giger’s achievements and influence in pop culture but in the latter portions of the film, offers a more human and complex look at Giger.
The film begins, oddly enough, with bucolic exterior shots of Giger’s home, which seems to be falling into disrepair. This is followed by a tour of his home, which looks exactly like what you’d expect Giger’s house to look like: black paint on the walls, gothic images and sculptures strewn about – including a collection of human skulls. Some of which, we are told, are Giger’s childhood gifts. Having struck this macabre tone – concerned as it is with mortality – we move further into the house, including a kind of “ghost train” ride in the backyard for kids, described as a “pre-natal” amusement park ride, by friend and psychoanalyst, Professor Stanislav Grof. Rife with stylized flesh imagery, Grof tells us the ride serves as a testament to Giger’s interest in that “dark place” of human consciousness. A place few dare explore.
The film spends a considerable amount of time with Giger in his home, as he greets guests and collaborators, publishers and staff, who are busy with practical matters – booking appearances, archiving a lifetime worth of art, etc. Overall, the film is broken up into segments, exploring some aspect of Giger’s life with each segment bridged by an interlude, not unlike the one in the opening moments of the film. Giger himself appears frail and rigid, having suffered some ailment, not explicitly stated in the film. It is in these banal moments of everyday life that we get a sense of what the man’s life was like in his latter years. Watching a movie with his wife and business partner, Carmen Maria Giger – who runs the museum that bares his names – making public appearances and reminiscing, including a return to his childhood home.
It is in these unguarded moments that we see H.R. Giger as an artist essentially in retirement, with his energies, and that of his staff, going into preserving his legacy. In one telling moment, at the beginning of the film, Giger and his wife look over proofs of a new book on his body of work. She points out that his name should appear more prominently on the front cover. Dark Star can be said to be a portrait of an artist as an old man. He reflects candidly about his mortality and the afterlife and seems prepared to embrace death, well in keeping with his characteristic interest in those “dark places” of human experience.
While most of the film serves as tribute to Giger’s work and contribution to pop-culture, tracing his rise from obscurity to international stardom, the latter delves deeper into Giger’s personal life and the unconventional, often difficult relationship with the women in his life. The adulating praise of the earlier portion are tempered by revelations of personal loss and conflict. Though the film favours the former, the latter adds depth to the portrait of the man who explores the dark side of human nature. A welcome addition, which not only sheds light on him personally but the difficulty and doubt that comes with the creation of art.
Finally, it should be noted that Dark Star goes to great lengths to show the importance of Giger’s staff and of his partners in the creation of his art. Without their efforts – from cleaning and sorting through a library’s worth of reference books hoarded in his home, to running the H.R Giger museum – Giger would not be the artist we have come to know and celebrate.