Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Belinda Sallin's creepy doc, DARK STAR, we're welcomed into the world of a most bizarre artist

Update: Dark Star will be available on VOD as 
of August 18 and via DVD on September 1.

Nothing moves fast -- not time, not the camera, nor the people that camera captures -- in DARK STAR, the new documentary film by Belinda Sallin -- her first, after making a doc series for German television. This slow pace has a kind of hypnotic effect that can alternately impress you or, if you're not careful, make you a tad sleepy. The result may depend on how much you already know and appreciate about the Swiss artist H.R. Giger. One thing I learned very quickly is that those H R initials stand, affectionately, for HansRuedi.

Ms Sallin, shown at left, was given wonderful access to Herr Giger, his household, his art and ideas, such as they are. Best known as the man who created the "alien" (of the Ridley Scott film and its far-too-many spin-offs, as well as the less famous but quite impressive "Sil" from Species, Giger (the German pronunciation of his name is evidently Geeger) was a guy for whom, as one person in the film succinctly points out, "birth, sex and death were very closely entwi-ned." These three land-marks/hallmarks were also, from what we see here, pretty much all that mattered to the artist.

Giger, shown above and below, during the time of the filming, is also seen at some length as a younger man and artist, during the days in which his career was taking off. We meet a couple of his earlier wives (one of whom he explains he had to marry in order for her to be perceived as something more than a mere "groupie") and spend time with the woman (and her mother) who cared for the artist through the end of his life.

Sallin fills her film with those helpers and caretakers, some of whom double as "shrinks" to our subject. Mostly a two-dimensional artist, Giger also completed a number of sculptures which have similar themes as his paintings. Quiet, slow-paced (often wheelchair-bound when he must travel) and soft-spoken, he had a very close relationship to his mother, in particular, while his father seems simply quiet and mysterious. "If I had shown my pictures to my parents," he admits at one point, "it would have scared them to death."

Though he is not asked about this, it would appears that Giger's influences might have included the likes of Dali, Picasso, Bruegel, Bosch, and maybe even de Chirico. We go with the fellow and his crew to a personal appearance in which he meets some of his many fans, applying his autograph to their books, prints and even their various body parts.

The filmmaker tracks Giger's career from the 1960s onwards, and we see him as a young man and artist, and while the fellow was perhaps always pretty strange, he has clearly become even more so with age. "He probes the dark areas where we don't consciously go," notes one of the interviewees along the way, and this is certainly true enough. But how he probes them seems to me a little facile, single-note and obvious. Perhaps there is more to life -- for some of us, at least -- than birth, sex and death.

The film ends with a dinner at Giger's home, with many of the folk we've seen during this doc in attendance, including the artist's fabulous cat. Mid-meal, the old man suddenly leaves the table and descends the stairs into.... This makes quite the appropriate finale, as Giger, we learn while the end credits roll, died very soon after filming was completed.

Dark Star, from Icarus Films and running 95 minutes, has its theatrical debut this Friday, May 15 at the Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in New York City, Nuart Theater in L.A., Opera Plaza Theater in San Francisco, the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley and the Cable Car Cinema in Providence. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and scroll down to the appropriate film.  

No comments: