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Film Review of the Week: Dark Star



Dark Star, a documentary about the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger known for his Oscar-winning designs in Alien, screens at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24, at the Capitol Theatre. If the tattooed, heavy-metalloid disciples who caravanned to the Giger museum in the film are any indication, expect a lot of eyeliner and ear gauges in the Gordon Square Arts District.

Giger's paintings are the stuff of nightmares. He has said that their creation was a kind of catharsis or therapy for him, the method by which he countenanced his most gruesome, indomitable fears. Before Alien, Giger was best known for working in and revolutionizing the representation of "biomechanical" forms, vaguely homo sapien figures crossed with machines. He was equally fascinated by (and terrified of?) birth, sex and death and orchestrated intricate Dali-esque tableaus in which all three were represented with lots of inventive coital imagery.

The film, though, is less an artist-at-work doc (a la For No Good Reason, 2014's Johnny-Depp-produced visit with gonzo painter Ralph Steadman) and more an "artist-wandering-around-his-bizarro-house" doc. Dark Star was filmed shortly before Giger's death — the poor guy fell — and though only 74, he waddles and throatily answers questions with about as much liveliness as a pit stain. He looks like he may keel over at any moment, has trouble speaking more than a few words at a time, and often looks confused and/or constipated  (which makes the presence of the camera feel sort of invasive and mean-spirited).

Unlike Alejandro Jodorowsky, who narrated the travails of his failed cinematic opus in last year's wonderful Jodorowsky's Dune, Giger, to reiterate, is not much of an onscreen presence. And not only are his personality and energies depleted, he just doesn't seem to have all that much to say about his work — beyond that he painted things he feared. Thus, a cast of associates and romantic partners provides ongoing anecdotal testimony, which testimony is occasionally very sweet.

We do, in fact, see the "world" of H.R. Giger, as the film's subtitle avers — the behind-the-scenes look at his business dealings with 20th Century Fox, his appearance at the H.R. Giger museum, house meetings with managers and agents — as opposed to simply his work.

But his work proves to be the only really interesting element of his world, on camera anyway. The slow pans of his massive airbrushed aliens, or the tour through his "paranatal" gardens at his home in Zurich, or the close-up shots of the grotesque skeletal sculptures littering his basement are all endlessly, sickeningly watchable in the way that gore or sex often is.

H.R. Giger was indeed an unusual and enigmatic artist, a man who was most comfortable among the uncanny. This film, directed by Belinda Sallin, though at times touching and at other times quite striking, seems a rather dry and descriptive sendoff.

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