Q&A: Director Belinda Sallin Explores “DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD”Fearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Heather Buckley
In DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER’S WORLD, documentarian Belinda Sallin takes the viewer inside the home and mind of the late artist and designer of ALIEN, SPECIES and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade DUNE—from an exploration of his garden, which includes a dark ride with tracks, to the interior of his house, with its pitch-black walls and a dense interior space of inspiration, art and skulls.
The movie, beginning its theatrical release today from Icarus Films and Kimstim (see the complete list of dates and venues here) is a quiet meditation on the man toward the end of his life. Giger is always surrounded by his loved ones and collaborators, trying to keep his house in order while he sketches and moves about his house, always “in orbit.” FANGORIA spoke with Sallin about her inspiration for the documentary, and what it means to be a “dark star.”
FANGORIA: What made you choose Giger as a subject for your film?
BELINDA SALLIN (pictured right): It was quite a coincidence. I met a former life partner of H.R. Giger’s one evening and we started talking about Giger, and of course I’d known his art since my youth and was interested immediately. I didn’t know he lived in Zurich, and she took me with her one evening for a visit. It was the very first time I saw his house and his garden that I decided I was going to make this film—and of course, when I met him in person, because he was really not the man I expected him to be. I thought he would be a dark character, and he was the opposite. He was a very friendly, nice, welcoming man, so I was very surprised. So I decided to make this movie the very first evening I met him.
FANG: How did you come up with the title DARK STAR? Is it a sort of play on his personality?
SALLIN: Yeah. The first time I visited him, Giger was like a fixed star to me. He stayed in his house, and he hardly ever left. Everybody wanted to work with him, for a book, for a film—like me—or for exhibitions, things like that, and they had to go to [his home] and sit with him around his kitchen table. He seemed to me like a fixed star in his universe, and everybody was spinning around him like a satellite. So I thought, “Whoa, this could be a title—he’s like a star in his universe, a dark star.” And then, he worked with Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the script for ALIEN, and who was part of another film, DARK STAR, in the early ’70s, so I like that it makes a reference to that time.
FANG: What choices led to the look and focus of your film?
SALLIN: I didn’t want to realize a conventional biography—this was absolutely not my intention. It was my intention to show the world H.R. Giger lived in. His houses, his exotic garden. He didn’t just live in his art, with all its consequences, and he remained very humorous, and a nice man, so I wanted to show that. I didn’t want to do the usual thing where you start with photographs, and say, “This is H.R. Giger, he was born 1940 in Chur…” and so on. And I know Giger himself agreed with my concept. He liked it. He said to me, “Yeah, you don’t have to explain everything.” All the dates, all the biography—you can read it on the Internet, or in his numerous books and publications.
FANG: Where did all the archival footage come from?
SALLIN: A lot of it came from Fredi Murer, a Swiss director and a really good friend of Giger. I believe Murer did the first documentary about him in 1971, and they worked together in 1968 on what I think was the first Swiss science fiction film, Swiss Made. So I went to see Fredi Murer at his home and asked him, “Do you have more footage?” and he had material from the shoot. He had some very nice outtakes, so the material you see in the film has never been revealed until now, which makes me very glad. I appreciate quite a lot that Fredi gave me all this footage.
FANG: Tell us about your choices in scoring the film—your decision to go with quiet electronic music.
SALLIN: I worked together with Peter Scherer, a very well-known composer in Europe. He liked Giger’s artwork and could easily connect with his work—as did the director of photography and the editor. This was a criterion for choosing the team, that they liked Giger’s art, because they had to deal with it for a long time. I talked with Peter for hours and hours; we looked at the footage and I told him that Giger liked jazz—he was not a kind of metal guy, as you could assume. He liked a lot of musicians like Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson—they were his heroes. You can hear it a little bit in the music; it influenced what Peter did somewhat. I think Giger would have liked the score.
FANG: What does Giger’s art mean to you?
SALLIN: This is a difficult question [laughs]! I can name a few points: I find interesting that many of Giger’s more figurative images tend to inspire abstract, philosophical thoughts, very personal ones, like “What are my fears?” One’s ego, and how it manifests itself, for example. The art provokes all sorts of questions. He has a lot to tell—for example, I recently went to Paris, to the Centre Georges Pompidou, which exhibits contemporary French art, and there you have, of course, a lot of beautiful things, but they don’t have a message, I believe. And Giger, with his figurative art, has a huge message.
I also find it interesting that the aesthetic in his work may help you confront your fears. He visualizes fears in such a way that after a while, if we engage with them, we no longer have to fear them; we can accept them. I found it interesting that he shows a wide circuit of sexuality, of death, of birth. He tries to show all. Of course, it’s provocative—I like that [laughs]!
FANG: Was that a trait in Swiss art during his time? You have the aesthetic of the Bauhaus, which is rigorously clean and reasoned, but then you have the nightmarish creations of Giger.
SALLIN: Of course, Giger was very special. You see his house; it’s very special too. Of course, he’s a unique Swiss artist, so perhaps that’s the reason he didn’t get the acknowledgment he deserved in Switzerland. He didn’t get the acceptance of the Swiss art institutions, or the art establishment. A lot of people in Switzerland rebuked his work—though not all; he has a lot of fans there too—but many people refused his art until now.
You know, it’s no secret that Giger wanted to have a large solo exhibition in Zurich, in the Kunsthaus, and it never happened, except for a small exhibition in the foyer in 1977, before he won the Oscar. So yeah, he didn’t get the acknowledgment there. It’s nice to see that changing now, and I’m sure that will continue over the years. It has already begun in recent years in Europe. For example, in 2004, Giger was awarded the Paris Medal of Honor, and he had also great exhibitions in France, Austria, Germany and more.
But he was no longer interested in that discussion. He told me, “Well, they don’t show my work here in Switzerland, so I have to build my own museum”—which he did [laughs]! Which is quite inspiring, to see that he did it on his own. I believe he was satisfied at the end of his life. Maybe this came from the fact that he knew he didn’t need the establishment to enjoy worldwide success. Who needs institutional approval when you’ve already reached countless people all over the world with your art?
FANG: When you first arrived at his house, what were some of the most precious objects he showed you, other than his artwork?
SALLIN: That is difficult to say. Everything is quite precious in his house, but as you see in the beginning of the film, Giger shows his first skull, which he was given by his father and that he dragged through the streets of his hometown on a string at age 6! I liked this idea a lot; he was 6 years old and loved a skull while all the other children were still hugging their teddy bears. So, yeah, this was an object that was very precious to him.
FANG: Did you get a chance to talk to him at all about the occult aspects and inspirations for his artwork? He comes off as someone who is creating for now, and doesn’t believe in an afterlife.
SALLIN: He talked a lot about how he was inspired—you’ve seen all the books in his house, and he has read them—so his inspirations came from reading, from music, from design—a little bit from everywhere. But he didn’t explain his art. He made that very clear at the beginning of my project; he told me, “You don’t have to ask me about my art. I don’t explain my paintings.” And I don’t believe he knew where it came from. He could explain what inspired him, but he couldn’t explain the process of creation, and he couldn’t explain the art itself. Leslie Barany [Giger’s agent] says it very nicely in the film: “It is coming from somewhere else.” I think even Giger didn’t know how it came, or where it came from.
FANG: You’ve captured Giger’s wonderful smile, the humanity and joy in a guy known for such intense, sinister art. What do you want audiences to come away with from this visit into his world?
SALLIN: What impressed me the most about H.R. Giger: He followed his dream, regardless of what people thought or said. You know his art a little bit, and I can only imagine what that meant to people in the ’60s or ’70s or what they thought or said. He stuck to his own path. He tried a lot of things, as you see in the movie: He tried the airbrush, he worked on Hollywood films, he was cultured, he built his own museum. This is quite unusual, following one’s path this way, and for me, that is very inspiring. At the end of his life, he was satisfied. He says in the film, “I am satisfied. I have done what I wanted to do, and I have seen what I wanted to see.” This is very inspiring and very beautiful.