Thank You for the Nightmares: Hans Rudolf Giger, 1940 – 2014

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“I still see the H stage, the studios at Shepperton, filled with smoke and oil burning. Outside, the sun was shining and we entered the studio and were suddenly in the mist…”
~ HR Giger, Cinephage magazine, 1992.

In 2012 the Swiss tabloid Blick asked HR Giger if he ever regretted not having children. “No,” he answered, “my pictures are my children.”

And what a progeny.

That Giger was one of the twentieth century’s foremost talents is no hyperbole. That he fathered a radically different and disturbing aesthetic is no exaggeration. That he influenced and will continue to influence generations of future artists needs not be prophesied. Biomechanics is HR Giger.

Of his art and interests, Giger explained that his fascination with the morbid came early, during his childhood in his hometown of Chur. “When I was about 5 years old my father got a human skull,” he explained. “That was something special. I was very young, and it was a little frightening. But I was proud to have a skull. My interest in skulls and bones came very early.” New friends brought new interests: “An old friend of mine, Sergius Golowin, a specialist in myths and fables and magic, gave me a book by Lovecraft in the late 60′s and introduced me to Necronomicon: The Book of the Dead. He said the entire corpus of my work could easily be pages out of the Necronomicon. I very much admire Lovecraft.” Additionally, Giger name-checked the “Ancient Egyptians” as being among his influences, telling Tatuaz magazine in 2008: “When I was about 6 years old, every Sunday I went to the museum in Chur, where in the basement they kept a beautiful mummy. She had an old odour, and it fascinated me. Later, when I started to draw and use an airbrush, that for me was a memory of great inspiration … The Egyptian art is a lot of death.”

Giger’s involvement with Alien owed itself to the tenacity of its writer, Dan O’Bannon, who had met Giger in France when Alejandro Jodorowsky was attempting to make Dune in the mid 1970’s. The two Lovecraft aficionados clicked, so much so that O’Bannon went home to the United States with a head full of biomechanic creatures writhing in his grey matter that were eventually expelled onto the page as Alien. “I love geniuses, and have been privileged to work with several,” O’Bannon wrote in his essay Something Perfectly Disgusting. “One was HR Giger; I met him in Paris and he gave me a book of his artwork. I pored over it through one long night in my room on the Left Bank. His visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality, and aroused in me deep, disturbing thoughts, deep feelings of terror. They started an idea turning over in my head. This guy should design a monster movie. Nobody had ever seen anything like this on the screen.”

O’Bannon had not only set out to write Alien with a “Giger monster” specifically in mind, but also fought the film’s producers to get Giger personally involved in the production of the film. The producers themselves, unimpressed by the notion of some “whing-ding” from Zurich working on their movie, preferred to hire someone from Hollywood; someone with other movies under their belt and reputable contacts in their phone book. Hiring an unknown European artist seemed laughable. Enter Ridley Scott, who found Giger’s Necronomicon thrust upon him by an eager O’Bannon. Scott looked through the book and was astounded. He threatened to walk if Giger was not hired. The producers acquiesced. Ridley explained that “My enthusiasm with regard to the film increased significantly as I realized we had the ability to create a monster that would be superior to most of those from the past.” Giger’s signature mesh of bone and machines, interlaced with decay and sexuality, would give Alien the unique ingredient it needed to distance itself from other standard sci-fi fare.

Alien’s production was a difficult experience for Giger. He struggled with changing scripts, excised concepts, the film’s designs and the producers’ demands, routine conflict with other artists and artisans and even irritation with dishonest taxi drivers – but there were internal difficulties as well as external ones: sleeplessness, fatigue, frustration, boredom, persistent nightmares and more. In May of 1978 Giger enthusiastically wrote in his diary that “I am on the Alien trip!” But subsequent journal entries revealed how fraught he was with the film’s demands: “I’m so worried about not finishing the monster on time that it’s making me sick.”

Mia Bonzanigo, described then as Giger’s “secretary-girlfriend-muse-model” by Cinefantastique, revealed Giger’s state of mind during those scorching summer and autumn months in England: “He used to have nightmares and would even talk in his sleep because of the terrible pressure imposed on him by the production,” (Giger and Mia, who can be seen in some of Alien’s behind the scenes footage, would marry after the film’s production. They later separated.) There were other problems. In July ’78 he wrote that “I like the H stage less and less. It all looks pretty shitty.” By August, before shooting had even fully commenced, he was writing that “All I want is to be back in my garden in Zurich with Mia … The work bores me.” There seemed to be more disasters in September: “The costume of [the] Alien was ruined … The four wings or tubes were broken and had to be attached with wires.”

Hard work had always been an ethic for Giger; he readily acknowledged that the life of an artist was likely to be busy and possibly largely thankless. But fame was not his aim, merely personal satisfaction with his own work and creativity. “I have worked hard,” he summarised in the 2012 interview with Blick newspaper. “Especially between 1972-1992 when I painted my large-scale airbrush paintings. Sometimes when I am a little depressed, I flip through my work catalogs and see what I’ve done. It gives me enormous satisfaction.” As for those troublesome days on the set of Alien, where “Everything is wet and full of slime and oil,” gratification was not far beyond the toil: “At least,” he assented in his journal, “there’s one satisfaction. It will be a good film.”

Death did not trouble Giger. “I’ll never count the friends who come to my grave,” he told Blick. “I myself never go to funerals, because they just depress me … I think that everything ends with death. I think, unlike Carmen, not even in rebirth. The idea that anything goes on or that I even want to come back to this world is terrible.” Above all, family and friends aside, it was the legacy of his work that concerned him. “I do not want to live again. Once is enough. It’s also all so terribly exhausting. But, even if I’m gone, my art lives on. I’m glad, and I hope that it finds recognition in future generations.”

The Giger circle has been kind to Strange Shapes and myself. No consolation can truly dull the pain of their loss, but we offer them anyway. Our condolences go to Carmen, his wife of eight years, his friend and agent Les Barany, and the many close associates and assistants that gathered around, helped and contributed to the last years of Mr. Giger’s extraordinary life.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Thank You for the Nightmares: Hans Rudolf Giger, 1940 – 2014

  1. Rest In Peace H.R Giger. Thank you for sharing your talent with so many people, and thank you for bringing us the most memorable extraterrestrial in all time. As Jodorowsky has said in twitter: “Good bye dear H.R Giger, you’ve returned to your world”.

  2. Gaius

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the men and women who have been made famous in great works of art, and BY great works of art (as Giger was), pass on as time goes by, one by one. For another recent example, you need only look at Harold Ramis.

    They’ll all be gone, some day; we will be able to recite their names in much the same way as Ripley listed her fallen crew near the end of Alien.

    And yet they are, in their own way, immortalized, preserved for as long as media lasts.

    Giger may have passed on, but we can see the fruits of his work at any time — just pop in a DVD, Blu-Ray, or even a tape recording of Alien, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

    With that, permit me to take up the refrain: thank you for the nightmares! In addition to being a superbly crafted film with evocative visuals, I am thankful for Alien because, for me, it peopled the dark with beautiful monsters.

  3. Nice article. Can’t imagine Alien without Giger. Props to Dan O’Bannon (RIP) and Ridley (long may he reign) for their ability to recognize such a talent and to fight to get him in the film. Seems rather ridiculous that anyone would have to fight to get anyone so talented into a cheap (budget-wise) monster movie.

  4. William Burchfield

    Giger’s passing has absolutely devastated me. I was severely depressed all day yesterday after hearing the saddening news. It’s strange how some deaths really affect you and others do not. Sure, it’s always unfortunate to hear of someone’s passing, but certain ones truly have a way of really knocking the wind out of your sails. Giger’s definitely did that to me. I think, at least for me, part of it is that such tremendous artists and visionaries who create all of these amazing, wondrous things just don’t seem human somehow. In your subconscious, you really associate them with being more than just a normal, everyday person on some levels, and you almost forget that they’re just like the rest of us in many ways. That they’re still only flesh and bone, and that we all have to and will depart from this existence sometime, somehow. It’s a difficult thing to put into words. Regardless though, the incredible work they’ve done lives on, and by extension, so do they. I think that ultimately makes the frustrating reality of it all much more tolerable.

    I’ve had an unhealthy obsession with Giger’s original Xenomorph design since I was a kid. It absolutely terrified me to the point that I remained oddly transfixed and captivated by its power, naturally growing into studying and learning more about its creator and his work as I matured and became able to completely appreciate and fully understand it. Ever since those early teenage years, Giger became a beloved hero to me. His work is instantly recognizable and its impact unparalleled. A true original. There’s just no mistaking a Giger piece.

    I think some artists are so haunted and ravaged by their own nightmares that it becomes their indirect duty to help the rest of us better understand and appreciate our own. Their art, be it paintings, music, film and so forth helps speak towards facing our own personal monsters and attaining a form of catharsis where we can learn to live with them. Giger was one such person whose ability to tap into his own darkness helped the world embrace and understand much of its own. His vision and aesthetic ushered in a new artistic age that continues on as we speak. I hope it never ceases in doing so.

    Personally, I would give just about anything to live on the Nostromo and wander its dark and dangerous corridors. Oh sure, I most likely wouldn’t last very long, but that’s how deep my strange obsession with this monster lies. Alien truly means that much to me. Part of me will always be immersed in that place, and in that story. Giger’s beautiful creature and the world he helped to create around it left an impact on me unlike any other. Such an affect can only speak volumes as to the legacy of Giger, his visions, and the work he left behind. Additional thanks are also indeed in order to Dan and Ridley for insuring Giger had the largest stage upon which to play and share his talents for an unprepared world that would forever be scarred by his creations and the nightmares they would inspire. May those same nightmares continue to evolve and never end.

  5. Finally the Nightmare , that was Giger himself , has mercifully passed from this life. His work shall live on and continue to show humanity the depths of its own capacity for depravity & degeneracy. I once told a friend in Wash.D.C. that if they brought a retrospective of H.R.Giger the only appropriate environment for it , IMO, would be the Holocaust Museum. Am I wrong? I was influenced by his Sc-fi work first encountered by his iconic album cover art for Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s album *Brain Salad Surgery*. ELP, with Emerson’s other-worldly uber-Moog synthesizer & the mix of classical symphonic themes , were as Jules Vern-class sci-fi gothica in and of itself as it could get. And then there was Giger’s 1973 album cover that crystalized ELP’s sci-fi theme. This was way before *Alien*.
    But then I bought the originally published portfolio book of *Necronomicon*
    and became revulsed by all of the degenerate immersion into death camp perversions alloyed with the filth of the dark occult. Yes, he was the pathogen of 20th century European culture come out to show itself for what it was and apparently still lingers on alive and well and run rampant in her Giger.
    Thus I see his life’s work as a cautionary tale of *Monsters from the Id*
    still lurking in the slime of the darker side of the human subconscious. Yeah, I see all of the lust degenerated into the lust for blood in glorifying the grotesque that one , I would think ,should wish be healed of. Why would one glorify a raging Cancer of the spirit.
    So who better to serve as the visual artist for the *Alien*, an instrument of genetically engineered weapons of mass destruction. How very aesthetically charming. A Necronomiconic mural of mass abortions, how thoroughly charming. I know this disease of mind & spirit has not left us when Giger passed. His talent lie in showing us just how depraved our culture can get . Witness the mass slaughter at the hands of Pol Pot or of the students of Beijing in Tiananmen Square coming up on 25 years ago. Giger is a warning
    for the future that the germ of degeneration is alive and well and rather dstill very virulent.
    Yes, he is the creator of biomechanics which chased away all of that phoney gee-whiz cheeswhiz of the Disneyfied -future and wiped that stupid smiley face off of *Star Wars* & *Close Encounters of the Third Kind* forever , but it was a necessary lesson to be learned, so long as we’ve actually learned it.
    Thereis nothing to glorify in the crushed bodies of Tiananmen Square, but her Giger thought was obviously helpless to create no other aesthetic but embracing the blood-lust of the grotesque, the Macbre as the term of art of salesmen of this genre *prefer* such as the Hansen galleries who were the original sellers of Giger art in Manhattan,and the original publisher of the *Necronomicon* book when he won the oscar for his Alien design ( I was there and was told thus in person ), to use to make it all sound somewhat classier. Garbage in, garbage out no matter how brilliantly slick & science fictiony & stylish it is packaged as. The medium is the message.

  6. BillTed

    RIP.

    But the good news is that he was recognized for his skills, accomplishments and value as a human being.

    And it seems that he generally found a way to live his life the way he preferred.

    Thats all anyone can hope for.

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