First posted 16/05/2022 at the awesome Kendall Reviews. http://kendallreviews.com/book-review-cabinet-of-curiosities-guillermo-del-toro/
Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos, Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy. What do they all have in common besides being visual works of art, treading the fine line between nightmarish fairytale and astounding beauty? They were all made by visionary director Guillermo del Toro. And of course these are only a few of the horrific, fantastical, but always emotive and humane movies in his stunning oeuvre.
In Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions, GDT provides us with an embarrassment of riches regarding his fascinating and vastly imaginative inner-workings, showcasing his numerous densely packed notebooks which have been his creative touchstones and reference points throughout his entire cinematic career. These notebooks are bursting with ideas both realised, abandoned or otherwise transplanted from one movie to another.
With each notebook page being graffitied with copious illustrations of possible creature designs, arcane symbols or anything else which was slowly gestating in his mind during the creative process, including scrawled questions the writer/director asked himself during the developmental stages of his various productions, which are very enlightening; particularly when he’s clearly hopping back and forth from one project to the next due to a combination of his prolific nature and various studio deadlines.
We are also treated to occasional storyboard breakdowns and various concept designs from GDT’s collaborating production designers, which are a welcome addition.
On top of these wonderful glimpses into his notebooks, CoC also provides interview questions conducted by the book’s contributor, Marc Scott Zicree, which help us delve into various aspects of GDT’s personal life, upbringing, and multitudinous influences. Enhancing these Q&A sessions, are anecdotes from actors, artists, authors and directors such as Ron Perlman (Hellboy himself!), Mike Mignola (Hellboy’s creator!), Neil Gaiman, and James Cameron, respectively, who all know the man himself, and provide behind-the-scenes stories of their friendships, histories, or even just amusing asides about GDT’s idiosyncrasies.
GDT even provides a guided tour of his famous Bleak House via photography and his own written descriptions, detailing the two-house shrine/museum to his staggering collection of artwork, sculptures, busts, books, comics and paintings on all things horror, fantasy, and weirdly speculative across the mediums of cinema, literature, and art. It looks like an amazing place to get lost in, and also boasts various rooms for his creative outlets, be they writing or illustrating.
And of course, GDT’s autobiographical accounts of his early days are illuminating, taking you through his precociously creative childhood to budding movie-maker, plus his continual (and admirable!) mule-stubborn struggles to keep studio suits and hacks from diluting, and even poisoning his artistic integrity e.g. Cronos may have got his foot on the first rung of the ladder, but only after experiencing a set-back involving a dull-minded studio producer first telling him that it essentially sucked and nobody would like it! And then there was the continuous head-butting over Mimic, his first US movie, which would have been so much better if he had been left to his own devices.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this hefty compendium which chronicles his career from Cronos up until Pacific Rim. I loved the boundless enthusiasm with which GDT talks about everything from his creative drive to life in general, which he does in a very down-to-earth manner, peppered with humour, humility, and philosophical nuggets on his creative beliefs and the oft-recurring themes which run through his movies.
My only real grievance is that the book concludes with a brief (sadly, too brief) glimpse into his numerous aborted projects, from Meat Market to At the Mountains of Madness; plus, I incorrectly assumed one of these projects might have detailed his screenplay for the Justice League Dark movie, which he would have nailed, but then that would also require a complete lack of studio interference which would never happen! Nevertheless, I would have loved to have been given a more detailed breakdown of the plots, characters and ideas of these movies; alas, perhaps the concise summaries of these projects is precisely due to their stalled productions, or the auteur’s fear of disclosing too much should he one day get to see their fruition. We can only hope, because Meat Market sounds very intriguing.
Highly recommended for any GDT fan, or anybody who has an interest in making horror/dark fantasy movies, for that matter.
Daniel James is an author of speculative (and sometimes dark and weird) fiction from Liverpool, England.
He is the recipient of two Kirkus Star reviews for his character-driven, action-packed urban fantasy novels Hourglass and The Ferryman’s Toll. Hourglass was also voted one of their Best 100 Indie novels of 2021.