Dark Star: HR Giger’s World

Year: 2014
Production Co: Icarus Films
Director: Belinda Sallin
Writer: Belinda Sallin

If it hadn't been from a phone call from 20th Century Fox in the late 70s, Hansruedi Giger might have been just another European artist who appeared to be obsessed with sex, flesh, machinery and the fusion between the three.

But it's because of the global awareness of his work thanks to his design for the monster in Ridley Scott's seminal space horror Alien (1979) that we have the opportunity to hear that his art is actually about birth and death. At least that's what Giger's entourage of his wife, assistant, agent and several art critics and curators explain in this documentary about his life.

Giger himself is greatly reduced in physical stature and energy in the film – it was completed just months before his 2014 death. He shuffles ever so slowly around his house in the suburbs of Zurich, shelves and walls piled high with books and art, his enfeebled state at odds with the raw, unflinching rigour of his work.

Comments from people close to Giger are interspersed with some very cool archive footage that includes the man at work – every bit the 60s-era European sophisticate and apparent playboy – and a fortysomething Ridley Scott talking about how being shown a book of Giger's work resoundingly changed the design of his alien horror movie.

It's interesting to hear about the themes that drove him that aren't immediately apparent from his dark and haunting images. Aside from the obvious (death), Giger was inspired by Egyptian iconography and strong feminine themes. Despite his reputation for being phallic obsessed, a lot of his work is actually about the collision (and collusion) between the softness of female body parts and the hardness of metal and other hallmarks of machinery and industry.

Despite Giger's frailty, you get an interesting glimpse into his inspirations and concerns. Both he and everyone around him claims the nightmarish visions he paints are taken literally from his own fears and dreams – he was apparently a man well versed about the theories of Freud.

And if you're not already impressed with Giger, he has a surreal fairground ride in his backyard where visitors board a tiny train and make their way through a series of hideous sculptures of flesh and metal amongst the trees and garden, all of it representing the trauma of birth. No word yet on a Disney movie based on it...

There's a very liberal European sensibility to both the film and the people who talk about Giger. The infamous Dead Kennedys album art featuring a grid of penises entering vaginas is dealt with very matter of factly – it prompted a shitstorm of controversy and court action in the US at the time.

Everyone's very comfortable talking very frankly about very personal and psycho-sexual material, and when you get more of an insight into the man you realise he was very much a product of the time and place. The twitchy, reactionary sexual politics of the 21st Century English speaking world is like an alien planet in comparison, and it'll take some brave curators and gatekeepers to bring us the likes of Giger's fever dreams again.

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