One of the pleasures of daily immersion in a film festival is appreciating the wildly different audiences you can be part of during a day. A couple of hours after watching “Wanda,” made by Barbara Loden in 1970, introduced by local novelist Rachel Kushner, as one of a serious group of cinephiles that didn’t exactly fill the 1,400-seat Castro Theatre, I returned that evening to be part of a capacity crowd of fun-loving fanboys and fangirls of Guillermo del Toro whose excitement and enthusiasm was so palpable as to be contagious. That’s when a festival is festive indeed.
The witty and fast-moving clip reel reminded me that I haven’t seen everything. And, of course, the way I’d like to see what I’ve missed, and re-see what I’ve seen, is just like this: beautifully projected on a huge screen. (Note: one plus of the digital revolution is that clip reels are now things of beauty indeed, crisp and bright and seductive. Farewell to the shabby prints of yesteryear. But one negative of the short-attention-span crowd: faster is not necessarily better.)
Noah Cowan, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, made a superb interlocutor, given his history as programmer of the Toronto International Film Festival’s revered and influential Midnight Madness program. He reminded us that del Toro is one of the great imaginative thinkers of cinema, as well as being able to scare the crap out of you.
Del Toro arrived to tumultuous applause (the theater seemed close to levitating), and lowered his alarming, Wellesian bulk (like later-day Welles, he’s dressed all in black) into a vast leather armchair.
He told us that he remembers seeing monsters in his crib — “I saw my first corpse, like a good Mexican, at age four: a guy without a head at the side of the road” — and he finds monsters endearing.
His house in Los Angeles, which has secret rooms and passages, is “devoted to the history of crap” — it sounds like Forrest Ackerman’s (the publisher of Famous Monsters) famed Ackermansion. “I’m like the least focussed ten-year-old you know.”
But he said his influences came not from films, but painters, illustrators, and comic book artists.
Another great influence was the 1998 kidnapping of his father, which lasted 72 days — unimaginable for most of us, but a part of life for many wealthy or influential Mexicans.
Del Toro says that, with the exception of “Blade II,” he’s only made movies that wouldn’t have been made without him. It seems that Mimic, his second feature, made for the Weinsteins, and not the movie he hoped to make, is still a sore point with him. But Pedro Almodovar, who produced “The Devil’s Backbone,” “taught me everything I know about producing,” and “I’ve done it — I’ve paid it forward.”
When asked if he “lifts anything” from other movies, he says “Not anymore!…for me, it starts with the image…in ‘Pacific Rim,’ it was the little girl with red shoes.” He cites the “awful horrible fucking images” (del Toro is nothing if not profane, delighting the fanboys) of Bosch and Goya. “It’s almost like puking, and then you organize what comes out. It has to come from inside! All the movies I’ve done are for me.”
And now, like the Jimmy Durante song that goes “Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, and then you have the feeling that you wanted to stay?,” I have to leave before the special reel of del Toro’s upcoming “Crimson Peak,” and the screening of “The Devil’s Backbone,” in order to rush across town and catch the only Festival showing of another unique auteur’s work: Guy Maddin’s “The Forbidden Room.”
And that night they both haunt my dreams.