The memory cheats. Despite being regarded as one of the true watershed moments of fantasy cinema and revered in our pages ever since, STARBURST’s original review of 1979’s Alien was less than glowing. In the view of legendary star writer John Brosnan, it was “a very annoying film, because on one level, it is a masterpiece and on another it’s a botched job”. The botched bit? Well, it was just a stylised remake of the classics of his youth; but the masterpiece bit he got spot on: the Alien itself was an extraordinary nightmare come to life, like nothing before committed to celluloid, the ferociously original vision of one man: H.R. Giger.
As gateway drugs go, Alien, with its startling, Necronomicon creature, was incredibly potent. Yet it really only scratched the surface of Giger’s dark labyrinth; this book rolls back the stone. It’s difficult for us to describe a giant-sized book with a price tag of £650 as ‘essential’ when that sum will also buy you a family holiday or keep the wolf from the door for a month or two, but there’s no denying that Taschen’s new folio of Giger’s work is the new benchmark in “definitive”.
In classic Taschen style, the visuals are accompanied by multi-lingual essays that elegantly lead us through the fascination and disgust of Giger’s singular path. It’s all here; the nature of ‘biomechanics’, the psychology of the bizarre sexual imagery he employed, the dark shadows of the human psyche that even Francis Bacon as his most daring never touched but Giger considered home. It is also the story one man’s response to the rapid pace of progress in the century he grew up in and how our increasingly wanton entanglement with technology became a metaphor for the astonishing ‘birth-machine’ creatures he constantly returned to.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Giger the man was a paradox, in many ways shy of confronting reality. If he feared he was ill, he did not want his doctor to tell him; if he saw something disturbing on TV, he stopped watching. But he did not hide these fears away, allowing them instead to fester in his mind before their transmutation onto canvass.
Movie projects, and the effect of worldwide fame on his work, are extremely well covered. Giger’s relationship with the film industry was never going to be an easy one, his art simply too overpowering to translate completely to the big screen. Alien achieved this most successfully as the wonderful designs and behind-the-scenes photographs here clearly illustrate, Species far less so. Then there were the projects that never reached the screen, the most famous of which, Alejandro Jodorowsky's tantalisingly out of reach version of Dune, getting lavish and justified attention.
Over 400 large-format pages, this is the artist’s life from dawn till dusk, the exquisitely dark, energy of his work coming to life with stunning clarity. Taken as whole, this book is bludgeoning, liberating and bold; a truly astonishing body of work laid bare. OK, we’ll say it: essential.
H.R. GIGER / EDITOR: HANS WERNER HOLZWARTH / AUTHOR: ANDREAS J. HIRSCH / PUBLISHER: TASCHAN / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER