Caught a wonderful show on the weekend at the AGO – “Living with monsters” which is a sampling from the private collection of the brilliant filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who began as an amateur illustrator, then worked in special-effects, before finally getting behind the camera to add some of the most wildly imaginative visual ideas to film culture since the arrival of the great Terry Gilliam, a few decades earlier.

Del Toro actually keeps his collection in a place that sounds truly magical – a special house, modelled after that of one of his childhood heroes, the author and horror anthologist Forest J Ackerman – and in it, as he states at the entrance, is “Every book I’ve ever read, and ever toy I ever bought.”

And there is one heck of a lot of unique wonderful beyond that, to be seen.

Pan and Faerie (top photo)

For anyone who is not already a fan of Del Toro, I have to recommend Pan’s Labyrinth – an incredible dark (that is, authentic-feeling) fairy tale, with a surprising historical context (Spanish struggle against fascism), and some really amazing acting (especially from the young star – whose warm intelligent and skeptical witness absolutely carries the film). And that’s not even getting into the superbly imagined and richly realized enchanted characters.

Perhaps unfriendly

Another extraordinary phantasmagorical character – this time from one of his films that I haven’t yet seen. I’m going to hazard a guess and say this is probably not one of the heroes of the piece (although that’s still a bit less than a hundred percent, considering Guillermo’s proven abilities to recontextualize and surprise us, with new perspectives that we didn’t see coming, until they overtook and overwhelmed us).

Nosferatu

Of course, he didn’t just start blending and innovating horror ideas out of an empty void – his years of keen adoration of the classics show up everywhere, not by making his work derivative, but by proving it well informed and respectful of the culture in which it is so beautifully well-rooted.

Frank

This way above life-size head is really wonderful – the expression far too complex to be easily plumbed or dismissed. Thoughtful and concerned in a sad quiet way that can’t help making you feel sympathetic with the big-guy. One gets the distinct impression from the show, that sympathy with monsters was of great value to Del Toro when he was young, and working his way through a difficult childhood. Very simpatico stuff – for so many of us.

Phantom

This tiny treasure really did it for me – having already gone out on a limb to say I’m a cat guy, let me be even more incendiary by admitting I don’t care a whit for “Rocky horror picture show” (though Tim Curry himself is a genius – especially musically) – for me, it’s always been Brian De Palma’s “Phantom of the paradise.” Not only did I start digging into Faust, immediately after seeing it – but the songs (some of Paul Williams very best ever) sit well in my head to this day, and continue to do good things up there. The way that the (same) band is evolved through several different epochs of pop (right up to an anticipatory punk caricature, that is, in it’s way, even more trenchant than clockwork orange) and the saving of this excess, by a return to simple heartfelt rock, makes this a musical parable and masterpiece, every bit as much as a filmic one. Plus, there’s no way I’m the only poor sap who has felt like the universal loser Winslow, more than once.

Come on darling, be reasonable

Really not where one expects to find a scene of charming domesticity – and yet, what could possibly be more fun or appropriate? This axis between the horror felt by others, and the much softer interior lives of the strange characters themselves is one of Guillermo’s most compassionate obsessions. And lets face it – we all of us know poor Frank deserves a bit of happiness. Pitchforking locals really don’t often help – and they get it right, even less than that. Now if only she can get him to pitch-in with the housework a bit, we’re golden!
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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