When Mexican director Guillermo del Toro makes art go pop, your heart can usually skip a beat. From now on to 27th of November, LACMA has took on to put on display over 500 objects from del Toro’s personal collection of monsters and curiosities, organized around seven themes – childhood and innocence, Victoriana, magic, alchemy and the occult; movies, comics and pop culture; Frankenstein and horror; freaks and monsters; death and the afterlife. The exhibition also features a Rain Room of the director’s invention, where you will feel miles away from the California sun.
The first thing you see on arriving the exhibition is a statue of the Angel of Death from Hellboy II. That sets the mood. All along the crimson walls, a happy mess of skulls, crystal balls and occult symbols, anatomic oddities in jars, fairytale books and Victorian-style portraits, figurines from both the director’s filmography and cult horror movies like Freaks or The Exorcist. In a corner, a replica of Boris Karloff sips tea with great elegance, comfortably sitting in a chair while make-up artist Jack Pierce turns him into Frankenstein’s creature – del Toro’s personal favorite monster. H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, H. R. Giger, Francisco Goya, Alfred Hitchcock are some of the names that you will encounter during your descent into del Toro’s imagination.
The reason del Toro has agreed to part with some of his precious monsters is purely altruistic. He has been taking his friends on tours through his Dickensian “man cave”, the Bleak House, every week now since his actual house proved too small for his growing family of creatures (not to say it might have been a disturbing presence for his wife and two daughters). The director liked the idea of sharing some of his treasure with the public, especially in a museum where he could mix the pop and the sacred by having a life-sized figure of Dracula standing next to an Expressionist painting. After all, that’s what del Toro is all about: defying boundaries.
Even though he started his carrier in cinema as a special effect and make-up artist, Guillermo del Toro’s fondness for the macabre started way before he first dipped his hands into fake blood and spectral goo. As he recalled in an interview, he was only 11 when he started wondering about the essence of human soul and got concerned with the idea of eternal damnation. Raised as a fervent Catholic, del Toro believes in The Weird above anything else yet never tried to get rid of his religious upbringing, and that is visible in all of his movies. To him, monsters are the same as angels: a metaphor to make sense of the world – and indeed to understand something, one needs the two sides of the coin. As a Mexican, the director says he has witnessed more than his share of violence, and even though considering that his origins give him a certain view about death would be a bit of a cliché, it is significant that he had to leave Mexico with his family after finally recovering his father who had been kidnapped for weeks.”I think humans are pretty repulsive” affirms del Toro, who has also claimed that the worst monsters are those wearing suits. In Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro’s indisputable masterpiece, the faun with his grayish skin and devilish horns might be monstrous, but he is not the scariest character in the movie – Captain Vidal and his cruel and brutal persona is the real danger to the young heroin. Even the terrifying Pale Man somehow scared me less than the implacable officer. And the list goes on: with The Devil’s Backbone or Crimson Peak, spectators soon get to understand that the horrific ghosts are not the menace, but the victims and even the warning for a larger threat – a human villain.
Guillermo del Toro entertains as much as he makes his public think, and that is probably his biggest strength on a Hollywood market where bankable directors come and go as fast as pretenders trying to sit on the Iron Throne. Having more in common with Tim Burton than tousled hair and a taste for starring Mia Wasikowska in nightmarish ambiance, I certainly do hope he will go deeper into the imaginary road (since Burton seems to have lost his way for a few years now, the path is clear) and take on the crown for Master of Horror.
Apart from sequels for Hellboy and Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro is also currently working on an adaptation of Pinocchio as well as Naoki Urasawa’s excellent manga Monster (another story about human monstrosity). If you can’t wait that long to feel shivers down your spine, you might also check Apocalypse, Bosch and Beauty of the Beast, at Parkstone International.
By Capucine Panissal