The late Hans Rudolf "Ruedi" Giger. Creator of the eponymous alien from Alien. Master of biomechanical macabre artwork. He seemed an odd fellow, and I've been a fan of his work for decades, so when I had a chance to preview the documentary Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World, I jumped at it. What I found within was astounding, inspiring, disturbing, and heartbreaking.
The man had a collection of human skulls starting when he was a child. He would tie a string around one and drag it down the street behind him like a toy. Probably not the most typical behavior, but his parents supported his unusual interests without judgment. He was plagued with nightmares most of his life, which grew more detailed and intense the older he got. This inspired his uncanny artwork, his night terrors brought to life on canvas. As he says in the film, he created these things not because he reveled in the horror, but to externalize it, to give it material form, so that he might try to exercise some sort of control over it.
There is no narration, only the interviewee side of any and every discussion in Dark Star. One of his assistants describes how Giger never did rough drafts or sketches. He simply picked up an airbrush and went to work, translating his mind's eye to canvas. Giger's widow Carmen became Director of the Giger Museum in Switzerland, which houses a huge collection of both prominent and little-known works produced over "Hansruedi's" lifetime. There is also discussion about how the suicide of Giger's first love affected his life and work, and how art brought him through an incredibly dark time.
The film alternates between footage from his younger years and middle age, on movie sets and in art studios, to more recent scenes (i.e., in the months prior to Giger's death in 2014) where we see just how lucid and active the artist was well into his 70s. Footage was being captured up until a few weeks before the tragic fall, the injuries of which would ultimately lead to Giger's death almost one year ago as of this writing. To still be so sharp in mind but becoming frail in body was probably the hardest thing to see in the film for me. What more could he have created if only his body could keep up with his brain?
I appreciated that the presentation wasn't trumped up for cinematic effect. The story of Giger's life and work on its own were enough to keep me watching. From the ghastly train ride he built for neighborhood kids in his own yard to the books and paintings and sculptures and characters he brought to life, he produced an outstanding body of work to be admired for years to come. Despite not being much of a darling in the art community, that world eventually warmed up to his brand of creativity once they realized how much of a fan base was developing around him. Some success in Hollywood with Alien and Species surely fueled some of that.
In the end, if you're even remotely a fan of the man or his work, see this film. If you're mildly curious how a mad genius lives day to day and what the inside of his house looks like, give it a look. If you've never heard of H.R. Giger, well, you're missing out, and Dark Star serves as a worthwhile starting point to get acquainted. Now I need to figure out how to sneak away from my real-world responsibilities long enough to check out that Swiss museum of his.
Opening theatrically in the U.S. and Canada in over 30 cities:
May 15-21 - New York, NY - Landmark Sunshine
May 15-21 - Los Angeles, CA - Landmark NuArt
May 15-21 - San Francisco, CA - Landmark Opera Plaza
May 15-21 - Berkeley, CA - Landmark Shattuck
May 15-21 - Providence, RI - Cable Car Cinema
May 22-28 - Santa Ana, CA - The Frida Cinema
May 22-28 - San Diego, CA - Landmark Ken
May 22-28 - Dallas, TX - Texas Theatre
May 23-26 - Austin, TX - Alamo Drafthouse
May 23-28 - Houston, TX - Alamo Drafthouse
May 28 - June 4 - Washington, D.C. - Landmark E St
May 28 - June 4 - Vancouver, BC - The Cinematheque
May 29 - June 4 - Denver, CO - Landmark (TBD)
May 28 - June 4 - Columbus, OH - Gateway Film Center
May 29 - June 4 - Philadelphia, PA - Landmark Ritz
May 28 - May 31 - Fort Worth, TX - Fort Worth Museum of Contemporary Art
View additional theatrical dates here.