Here's a complete list of the things I learned about the late artist H.R. Giger from the documentary Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World:
- He didn't really like to talk about his art.
- His house is filled with incredibly creepy artwork.
- He liked cats.
I'm being slightly facetious - there are few stray comments here and there that reveal interesting things – but for the most part, Dark Star feels like a potentially absorbing documentary that's missing some essential pieces. The raw materials for a compelling doc are in place: the filmmakers have unfiltered access to a uniquely fascinating artist (the documentary was filmed shortly before Giger's death in 2014) and an abundance of striking imagery at their disposal (always helpful when you're making a movie). Unfortunately, the artist doesn't really have anything to say about his work, which means the film's narration-free fly-on-the-wall approach often turns into a series of uneventful home movies.
It's quite a home, though. Giger – who looks a bit like Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in his old age – has surrounded himself with visions from his own nightmares. As he putters through the house, alarming painted, drawn or sculpted images keep catching our eyes: tormented women, ghoulish babies, otherworldly demons, tentacles, genitalia, blood. There's an unsettling majesty to his work, and it's easy to see why artists from many different corners of pop culture (filmmakers, musicians, video game designers) have employed his imagery to add a dark visual signature to the (usually) more accessible product they have to offer.
Speaking of which, Giger's best-known achievement is almost certainly the frightening, sexually-charged design work he did for Ridley Scott's Alien. The film spends a few minutes talking about this and suggests that there was some sort of creative conflict between Giger and Scott, but then we're on to the next thing. I get that this subject matter has already been thoroughly covered in the making-of materials produced for the Alien home video releases, but the way Dark Star introduces it and dismisses it without ever actually saying anything of substance about it is peculiar. Time after time, scenes feel like they're missing something. There's one scene in which we watch Geiger and his wife Carmen intently watching Werner Herzog's Nosferatu. Is he a big fan of the movie? Has he drawn inspiration from it in the past? Dunno. We watch him watching it for a couple of minutes, and that's it.
To fill in the gaps, the filmmakers spend a large portion of the film's running time simply observing Giger's artwork while ominous music plays in the background. The experience of watching the film occasionally feels closer to flipping through the pages of a handsome art book than to watching a documentary, which is A) fine, I guess and B) a little disappointing. Occasionally, one of Giger's friends or associates will contribute a valuable nugget, such as the man who reveals that much of the artist's work is an attempt to process the “repressed trauma” of the birth experience (which Giger sees as an unspeakable horror that humans aren't really capable of grappling with). As for Giger himself? He limits himself to comments like, “I like this one” and continues shuffling along, entirely unconcerned with whether he's giving the filmmakers anything good.
Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World
Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Year: 2015