Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dark Desires

Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World (2014) - Sallin
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Hans Ruedi Giger, the artist known for his nightmarish vision, passed away in 2014 at the age of 74. Luckily for us, Swiss documentarian Belinda Sallin has made a comprehensive, yet intimate portrayal of the artist just before his passing.

It was his Oscar winning work in Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi, Alien - the facehugger, the phallic, acid bleeding creatures, the skeletal inner sanctums of the creatures, based on his paintings and sketches from his book Necronomicon (1976), that really put his often obscene dreamscapes of birth, death and sex into the mainstream consciousness.

With such dark imaginations, you'd expect a tortured soul. But as Sallin invites us into Giger's home in Zürich, Switzerland, you soon find out the opposite is true. Mild mannered and soft spoken in the last of his years, the famous artist's look and demeanor don't really match his famous creations or vice versa. His old house, filmed from corner to corner by Sallin, is like a living museum, packed with his paintings, sculptures, mountains of books filling every square inch. The front yard is planted with Giger artifacts everywhere, complete with a little haunted house ride where you literally go through trauma of birth- through the vaginal gates and with hundreds of deformed fetuses adorning the walls.

The film starts with Giger holding his first human skull, given by his father. He talks about his fascinations with death early on. He dragged the skull around on a string to get over the fear. He is surrounded by admirers and supporters (current wife and director of Giger museum Carmen Maria, poster designer and colleague Leslie Barany, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, musician/assistant Tom Gabriel Fisher among them) who talk about Giger's incredibly kin sense of perception and appreciation for humanity's deepest, darkest desires and fear. His works are like his subconscious channeling through the other side. Many juicy anecdotes are told, including his early obsession with the Egyptian concept of afterlife after seeing a mummy in a museum and the heavy use of LSD in the 60s.

darkstarposter.JPGWith a wealth of archival material and interviews, Sallin charts the young artist selling posters of airbrushed, almost photographic images of biomechanoids which had become his signature work in the 60s and 70s. His dark images were used in many album covers as well. People flocked around him, especially women. They found his nightmarish images erotic and beautiful and full of energy. Li Tobler, a Swiss model who was depicted in many of the Giger's famous paintings, as they were deeply involved, wasn't as lucky as him channeling inner demons. Her suicide in 1975 from depression is one of the things Giger still has difficulty talking about. He chokes up as he says that not only his art couldn't help her but was possibly responsible for her demise. 

Dark Star gives us an incredible access to an artist and his dark art. It's a portrait of an artist at his most natural environment: he sketches, has a dinner with his friends, cuddles his loveable Siamese cat Müggi. Sallin also knows how to satisfy fans of the artist by providing many previously unseen Giger works and plenty more as she and crew explore nooks and crannies of his Zürich house.

Many talk about Giger's generosity to younger fans. Even after the success and fame he had found in Hollywood, he's been answering fan letters and corresponding with many of his admirers. It is still evident in book signings- whether it's at a museum in Lintz, Austria or at Giger Museum (Chateau St. Germain, which he purchased in 1998) in Gruyéres, Switzerland, that he connects with all his fans from all over the world. Most touching scene plays out when a heavily tattooed diehard fan breaks down and cries in front of his idol.

As his bookkeeper/mother-in-law tells Sallin, Giger is a very normal man who used his art to confront his fears. People tend to suppress their nightmares and dark desires, but Giger with his airbrush confronted these inhibitions head on. The images in his head was so frightening, he had to depict it. It was a form of art therapy.

Intimate and thoroughly insightful, Dark Star is a great ode to the prince of darkness of the art world.

DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER'S WORLD opens across the U.S. and Canada theatrically on May 15th. Check Icarus Films' website for more info and dates.

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