At the Golden Globes last Sunday night, Guillermo del Toro, who won Best Director for The Shape of Water was poignant in his on stage speech. “Since childhood, I’ve been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them, because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection, and they allow and embody the possibility of failing,” Del Toro said. “For 25 years, I have handcrafted very strange little tales made of motion, color, light and shadow…and in three precise instances, these strange stories, these fables, have saved my life. Once with Devil’s Backbone, once with Pan’s Labyrinth and now with Shape of Water.”
Someone needs to throw a couple hundred million dollars at this man so he can go make At The Mountains Of Madness.
It would be interesting to see that story made by a Lovecraft fanatic with del Toro’s sympathy for monsters. The two are stylistically harmonious but ideologically almost opposite. Lovecraft’s eldritch abominations stand in for the chaos and absurdity that wait outside the comforting bounds of New England traditionalism. Del Toro’s melancholy monsters more often stand for the residue of our shared humanity that the modern world has made unrecognizable to us. I want to know what happens when you put these two perspectives on a collision course.
One thing is for certain though...Guillermo Del Toro continues to shine the light for original, distinct and wildly imaginative narratives.
For me, a big part of it is how he attempts to find what makes various storytelling genres work, and then attempts to translate that to films. The result is usually something that has a few awkward edges, but which manages to capture something essential about the initial rush of encountering the genres he works within. Like, Crimson Peak is a bit melodramatic and stilted in parts, but you know what? So is Jane Eyre, so are many other Gothic novels, but they’re still fun to read, and del Toro finds a good way of making an original story that captures the same blend of sexual repression mutating into unspeakable taboo and otherworldly horror.
Likewise, I’ve heard from fans of mecha anime that Pacific Rim had a ton of references to that particular sub-genre. Sometimes it comes across as clunky and a little dumb, but, well, so does some of its source material. Same with Blade II and creature-features, or Cronos and vampire films, or the Hellboy films and comic books. Del Toro is consistently able to distill a familiar experience into a pure cinematic expression, and if he inherits some of the issues with his source material, that’s ultimately part of the charm.
I would say that his two Spanish-history films (The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth) are more free of these issues, because even though he’s still using genre in each of them (ghost stories and fairy tales, respectively), he’s less reliant on genre because they’re all somewhat related to Spanish history, something he’s able to paint in less broad strokes than the Americana that seems to be on display with The Shape Of Water.
Meanwhile, I’d watch a massively expensive Lovecraft movie from del Toro, but perhaps it would be more to the point if the studio gave him about $20-30 million every year or so to do whatever the hell he wants. His most striking work has generally been mid-budget, and for that price the studio will apparently let him do defiantly weird shit. Who would have guessed that this year’s Golden Globe winner would include monster sex followed by a black-and-white Alice Faye singalong in the afterglow? So, um, more of that please.
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