Genre: Documentary Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Release Date: May 15th, 2015 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Belinda Sallin Actors: H.R. Giger, Carmen Maria Giger, Sandra Beretta, Mia Bonzanigo, Tom Gabriel Fischer, Stanislav Grof
simple visual tour of Hans Rudolf “H.R.” Giger’s home and museum could have filled a feature-length documentary. This project, however, predominantly glimpses the artist at work in his home (or, due to his dwindling health, merely residing there), meeting with his agent (Leslie Barany) and associates (including Hans H. Kunz, poster designer, and Stanislav Grof, the author of a new book on Giger), and conversing with his assistant (Tom Gabriel Fischer), his wife (Carmen Maria Giger), and his mother-in-law about his ideas and motivations. And, of course, there’s quite a focus on the artwork itself, with careful pans across some of his most renowned and absorbing paintings.
A bit of Giger’s personal history is covered, from his humble origins in Switzerland to his success with selling reproductions of his work in the poster format, along with extremely brief notes on his inexplicable techniques and airbrush methods. The fevered inspirations of uncomfortable dreams, a few LSD trips, and vivid personal fears (one dating back to a childhood experience at a museum, involving a mummy and his sister’s amusement at his consternation) are spoken about at greater length. The themes of birth, life, and death, blended with Egyptian motifs, sex, and eroticism, are also commented upon (and visually prominent).
But there’s little dialogue to interrupt the onslaught of imagery, which actually hurts the potential for audiences unfamiliar with Hansruedi’s history to enjoy the film – particularly when the parts of his life involving his nine-year relationship with Li Tobler (whose last name isn’t even mentioned in the film), a woman whose likeness appears in many of Giger’s works (and who committed suicide after suffering from severe depression), are skipped over so quickly. The film assumes viewers are familiar with that subject, Giger’s career milestones, and even his relationships with the various talking heads, and therefore dispenses with necessary introductions to, and reiterations about, his associations and most famous accomplishments – especially his involvement in Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” which won him an Academy Award. Brief clips of archival footage do make their way into the picture, but not frequently enough to assemble a comprehensive biography. This documentary is much more of a retrospective, detailed by observations of Giger during his final days at his massive estate.
From his shelf of real human skulls (something of a defiance of death) to his personal garden of demonic sculptures (featuring a fully functioning, miniature train) – which is very much like journeying through a prenatal nightmare realm – Giger’s dwelling is a labyrinthine estate full of frightful nooks and crannies for the artist to wander through (and to stash away unseen early treasures, unearthed for the first time in this movie). His artwork is instantly recognizable, filled with utterly haunting depictions of bony, mutated flesh, torturously mixed with mechanical components – human anatomy fused with uncanny machinery, dubbed “biomechanoids.” And it litters the walls, the floors, the furniture, and even the bathtub.
The film does stress that he’s very much a normal guy, despite his paintings and sculptures suggesting quite the opposite. In the end, though this documentary shows some engaging moments with the artist during his last days, it’s less informative than observational – and, as a result, more fleeting than memorable. H.R. Giger’s art is mesmerizingly sensational, but this somewhat plodding, generally unenthusiastic, routinely monotonic production just doesn’t do his monumental accomplishments cinematic justice.
– Mike Massie