Without the twisted, albeit brilliant, mind of H.R. Giger (and yes the guiding hand of Ridley Scott you fucking nerds), Alien could have easily succumbed to mediocrity resulting in a mindless B-grade studio picture. However, Giger’s fanatical obsession with sex, death and our ever evolving mechanical dependency led him to create one of the most iconic creatures in science fiction history. His prevailing influence on the genre is undeniable even after his passing. Given the subject matter one might, safely, assume a freeform documentary about a man whose idea of self-prescribed therapy was to confront his personal demons head on via visual arts would be entertaining. However, Belinda Sallin’s Dark Star is a brilliant case study in how NOT to make a documentary.
Dark Star (not to be confused with John Carpenter’s foray into feature filmmaking) is a fractured and incredibly mundane portrait of the aforementioned Swiss artist. Shot between 2013 and 2014, wrapping production shortly before Giger died, the film opens strong: We are presented with a series of shots leading us through Giger’s home. As the camera bobs and weaves its way through corridors riddled wall-to-wall with Giger’s artwork, and various macabre knick-knacks, Sallin’s direction sets the tone for the film perfectly. Moreover, at the start of the next scene, we are immediately thrust into the throes of Giger’s world as he waxes nostalgic about how a skull that his father bought him as a child served as the catalyst for his fascination with death. Unfortunately, despite its solid start, Sallin never delivers on the promise showcased in those first few scenes.
The remainder of the film is spent following Giger listlessly meandering throughout his house (Sometimes petting a cat! Sometimes eating a piece of cake!), traveling, or attending the occasional awkward book signing. Giger, in a steady decline health wise, is clearly disinterested with the process. Sallin is never truly able to extract any sincere moments out of him. You get the sense that the filmmaker desperately trails Giger in hopes of breaking his cold resolve but, in the end, is awarded with fuck all. Even his own personal account of the tragic suicide of a former lover (whose influence on his life left a lasting mark) is treated with the same piss poor quality filmmaking rampant throughout making the account feel exploitative. What anecdotes we do get are all second hand accounts by friends, or professional acquaintances, attempting to psychoanalyze the artist.
Told through a mix of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, talking head interviews and archival footage, Dark Star is an uninspired work of art whose depiction of Giger feels more like an insert to a novella dust jacket than proper documentary filmmaking; in other words everything feels paraphrased. The film will undoubtedly spark some interest with fans of Giger BUT with its severe lack of backstory it’ll definitely turn some people off. In addition, the film is a terrible introduction to Giger for those unfamiliar with his work because it offers little insight into his artistic process. Needless to say, you’re better off watching Mad Max: Fury Road again.
Ryan Darbonne is a mediocre filmmaker based out of Austin, TX. He is the founder of Cinema41, former Film Department Director at Austin Film festival and one of three unconventionally attractive men in the fiscally conservative hip hop group SPACE CAMP Death Squad.