H.R. Giger lived in fear.
The great surrealist died shortly after Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World was filmed, so this is the last record of him as a living being, and it could have been riveting because of who he was. His face is that of an old baby, and it is all but immobile—stroke? old age? the film doesn’t say. But one way or another, the man is seriously impaired, a monolith on screen, softly mumbling his Swiss German dialect, and that doesn’t do a film any favors. While all the time, his baby face shows fear. In one interview, while discussing some non-threatening aspect of his past, the fear approaches actual terror.
Because the world H.R. Giger lived in was not our world. He was fascinated by fear, and in the end, he was consumed by it.
According to his reminiscences, his father handed him a skull when he was a small child, and though “holding death in your hand” frightened him, he determined to deal with the fear by dragging the skull around by a string. Then a few years later, his sister took him to the basement of a local museum to see a mummy. This, too, frightened him, but his sister forced him again to confront his fears. And the next we hear of his life, he’s painting the visions from his id, of sleek, mechanized women intertwined with elaborate serpentine filigree, rendered with beautiful airbrushed precision. Clearly, he came to internalize the fear, and that allowed him to use it. It also turned him into a man who kept his shutters closed to live in perpetual darkness.
His first great love committed suicide, and he takes the blame for it, admitting he couldn’t deal with her increasing depression because it would interfere with his art. When his first wife grew ill, he sat by her bedside and told her she had to get better because it was screwing up his art. The marriage lasted a year and a half. It was always about the art for him, and from an art consumer’s standpoint, we can appreciate the result. But from a human perspective, it’s hard to sympathize.
Now, this could still be interesting if this film were one of those ten-minute loops that play continuously in museums, but it’s ninety-five minutes long, and the time is padded out with standard docu-tropes: long panning shots, evocative music, and talking heads. One head is Giger’s as noted, and at least he seems committed to telling the truth of his life no matter how it makes him look—telling it as he sees it, peering out of the dark. But his agent sees Giger’s career as a machine, and his psychiatrist sees it through jargon, and his former-death-metal-musician assistant talks about said assistant’s complete devotion, and his fans call him “master,” and none of it touches the fear at the center of H.R. Giger’s skull. From time to time we see the art that came of it. That’s the stuff that tells the truth about the man, and if that’s what you want, you’re better off buying a coffee table portfolio instead.
Steve Englehart has been the lead writer for both Marvel and DC on several occasions, and a founding father of Malibu’s Ultraverse. His redefinition of the Batman and the Joker as mature adults completely changed both comics and the films made from them for the last three decades, but there’s also Star-Lord, the Avengers, Captain America, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Coyote, the JLA, and dozens of others. He created Kilowog and Guy Gardner for the Green Lantern Corps, and the Night Man, who got a TV series. The San Diego ComiCon said he has “more hits with more characters at more companies than any other writer.” www.steveenglehart.com.