Tuesday, May 13, 2014

H.R. GIGER (1940-2014) - A Tribute
Well, that's eerily appropriate. The last film I posted about here was Jodorowsky's Dune (2013), in which the artist H.R. Giger appeared and figured prominently. Now, just a little while later, he has died, after a taking a bad fall in his home. In the abovementioned documentary, he seemed to be struggling for breath, and I wondered at the time if he was in poor health.
In any case, Giger was, in my opinion, a genius. He was not just a technically brilliant artist, but also, with his self-described focus on "biomechanical" art, a visionary who foresaw (and influenced) many of the images and technologies that have come since he first made a splash in the art world.
Of course, the biggest splash that will forever be associated with Giger, is the splash of blood that came out of John Hurt's belly when Giger's alien in the film Alien (1979) burst out into the public consciousness. Giger designed what is arguably the greatest movie creature of all time - a monster that will give kids nightmares for as long as there's a human race.

When Alien came out, I was in Alaska, visiting my father in Anchorage. He was as a maƮtre de at a swank downtown restaurant (the Corsair) and thus was working in the evenings. But I desperately wanted to see Alien, so he asked a sweet and pretty French waitress there if she would take me to the movie. (I was a kid, and it was very much rated R.) She agreed.
This was an act of kindness she may still regret. I don't remember her name all these years later, but I can still recall her face when we walked out of the theater. She looked shellshocked, pale. I don't know what she thought she was going to go see, but clearly she wasn't expecting that. She quietly escorted me home, then probably went home to have a good cry, or a stiff drink - or both.

Giger won an Oscar in 1980 for his incredibly effective visual effects. He deserved it. And if all he had ever done was created that slimy alien, he'd be worth remembering.
But there is more to his legacy than that. There were other Alien movies, other non-Alien movies, and yes, the coulda been a contender Dune project. He did iconic album covers (Debbie Harry's Koo Koo) and created the infamous insert that came with the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. And always more paintings, sculptures and other art projects. I won't say that Giger was everywhere when I was growing up, but you were always aware that he was out there, doing something dark and brilliant.

Giger was born in Switzerland in 1940, and it's in Switzerland that you can find the H.R. Giger Museum, in a medieval castle (Chateau St. Germain) in Gruyeres. The museum houses a great deal of Giger's artwork, and has what surely must be one of the coolest bars in the world. I don't even drink, and I still think the bar alone is worth a trip to Switzerland.
Like some mad genetic combination of the otherworldly visions of H.P. Lovecraft and some of the showmanship of William Castle, H.R. Giger was unique, frightening, monstrous and marvelous. The fact that so much of what he created is now ubiquitous is a testament to his talents. His death is our loss, but his creations are still out there, giving incredible nightmares and inspirations to an entirely new generation.

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