By Kyle Osborne
Even if you’re not a fan of his dark, enigmatic, some might even say disturbing art, chances are you’d at least recognize the eerie images wrought by Swiss artist H.R. Giger. He won an Oscar for his work on the cult classic film, ‘Alien.’ Remember the scary alien monsters? You know—the mouth opens to reveal another mouth opening to reveal another. Slime dripping from its teeth. Or, if you’re over 50, you’ll recall the trippy Emerson, Lake & Palmer album cover. And when I say “trippy”, I literally mean art that was conceived by the artist on LSD (and surely enjoyed by fans who were in a similar state).
But despite the sinister nature of the art, which has long since become a fetishist favorite and has kept many tattoo artists busy, Giger, as we learn in this oddly warm documentary, is a nice guy. He died about a year ago, just days after filming was completed, but his presence in the film is that of a kindly old geezer who loves his cat.
Perhaps it’s because his speech and gait had been cruelly altered by a stroke that we don’t actually hear much from him in the film. But the camera goes inside his quaint bungalow of a house in Zurich, where we get to know the people who surround him. Far from being an isolated, tortured soul, Giger is rarely without someone kind and loving in his presence. His doting wife, his kindly mother-in-law who keeps the books, a Metal musician who works as his assistant—these people and others become welcome characters in a film that constantly turns your expectations upside down.
We learn that Giger’s recurring themes of birth, sexuality and death are rooted in his own life experiences, but not so much in obvious ways that would be easily guessed. Part of the fun is reconciling the fantastical vision of an artist with his mundane acts of watching TV and tooling around in the garden (though, it happens to be a garden with spooky sculptures and a train track!).
I’ve never been a fan, but there are legions of them, and many make pilgrimages to the Giger Museum in Zurich, as well as to the Giger Bar. But the way you know that you’ve seen a good filmwhen you find yourself really, truly giving a damn about a guy whose name you didn’t even know how to pronounce before the film started (by the way, I’d always thought it was “Geiger”, like geyser, but, nope, it’s pronounced like “Geeger.)
You may not find yourself getting his images tattooed on your back, like one person seen in the film, but you’ll really come to like this old coot and the genial folks who were in his circle. They must feel so empty now.
‘Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World’ is now showing at Landmark Theatres E Street Cinema in Washington DC. Please check your local listings for times in other parts of the country.