Searchlight: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

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Auteur Guillermo del Toro is first and foremost a fan of horror. With an excellent command of story mechanics, a deep understanding of human nature, and a sincere willingness to dive into the deep end of the abyss without a safety net, del Toro has firmly stamped his footprint on the imaginations of millions of people worldwide. There’s just something about the way he tells his stories that is undeniably del Toro.

My first del Toro was The Devil’s Backbone, caught late at night on one of the premium cable channels, mid-movie with the screen on one of the scenes of Carlos and Santi, the remote hanging slack in my hand, and I’m sure my mouth was hanging wide open.

I was seriously creeped out.

Watching until the end, I needed to know more about this director, this wild man that managed to creep me out with one scene and keep me engaged for the rest of the film. Then I realized an earlier film of his, Mimic, was also a favorite. Since then, I’ve been following del Toro’s career, though I will admit that Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth are my favorite del Toro films. And yes, Hellboy, Blade II, even Pacific Rim, are favorites as well, but those former three, his Spanish films, are the epitome of what del Toro is capable of, and represent some of the best story-telling in horror and fantastic cinema in nearly two decades.

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One thing that stands out in del Toro’s career is his writing. del Toro has seventeen writing credits for film, including most of those he directed. This is very common territory for most producers and directors; a command of the written word is paramount, and one would be foolish to even think creators do not write. To get a glimpse into del Toro’s mind, to see what he sees, his thoughts and visions … now that would be incredible.

Fortunately, del Toro has us covered. Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions reveals the method to the man’s madness. As a fan of the genre, del Toro takes us on a brief tour of his early inspirations such as Arthur Machen, Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, and Poe. He takes us on a tour of his home, which is basically a shrine of horror memorabilia with waxworks and movie props, Giger prints and recreations of some of horror’s greatest film scenes. We see who influenced him with art and filmmaking, and get a chance to read what his peers think of him.

His Idea Incubators, or notebooks, are the foundation of all his projects. Filled with copious notes and tons of ink drawings, we see that del Toro’s unique vision is first fulfilled on the written page before he transposes his imagination to film. del Toro writes these notebooks for his daughters, so they will have a record of their father, and they are personal, but not so much that Guillermo didn’t want to share them with his fans. This giant tome is a great way to understand the filmmaker, and see his creative process in action.

Cabinet of Curiosities 2Seeing the very pages of del Toro’s notebooks helped me with my own journaling. As an organized writer, it’s important for me to map out my stories, even some of my short-stories, so I can keep the events straight in my head. Of course, we never really learn a way to outline our stories. We just figure it out as we go along. After seeing del Toro’s notebooks, inspiration hit me hard. I had never really drawn or doodled in my notebooks before. As an artist, I somehow managed to keep drawing and writing separate. Once I combined the two, even knowing that whatever I drew in my notebooks might never make it into the story, I found my imagination opening on the page whenever I started pounding out the words on my keyboard. My visualizations became more vivid, and I started utilizing all my senses with my words.

There is not a wasted space in del Toro’s book. It is literally one of those books you can open to any page and find inspiration, and probably a story prompt or two. Hell, most of the notes are in Spanish, but that doesn’t matter, you still get a sense of his need, his compulsion, to get the ideas in his head on the page. This is his gift to all of us, a glimpse into his mind, to see what he sees in the rawest possible form. If you’re needing a proverbial kick-in-the-pants inspirationally, you cannot go wrong with this one. Highly recommended and definitely money well spent.



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