Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg both scored Best Picture nominations this year by remaking classic Hollywood films. But there’s no jealousy between them, as del Toro, who directed the neo-noir “Nightmare Alley,” counts himself as a big fan of “West Side Story.”
In a new Twitter thread, the hyphenate director highlighted a technically intricate shot from Spielberg’s musical remake, and used it as a jumping-off point to discuss the complexities of directing film. Del Toro described the sequence as “extremely hard to execute. Pure, masterly clockwork precision and a lot more complex than ‘seamed’ shots or Steadicam-to-crane ‘relay’ shots. Baffling, virtuoso- but one of so, so many shots that make the camera ‘dance’ with each musical number.”
He compared the film to a great symphony, writing that “if you attempt to really breaking down the tools and how he uses them- you have to do it in a second or third viewing. You feel like Salieri getting the Requiem dictation from Mozart: ‘Wait- wait- you’re going too fast!'”
Del Toro went on to ponder the way fans and critics discuss films, saying that he believes there should be more emphasis on technical precision, but that great films like “West Side Story” are ultimately much greater than the sum of their parts.
“I mean — the dramaturgy is 50% of the point, but another 50% is submerged in the craft. This is not just virtuoso for the craft’s sake, its virtuoso for the art’s sake. It’s a musical so, he makes the camera dance,” he tweeted. “This is the reason why cinema is written not in theme, story or character but in painterly, symphonic terms. Discussing a film purely on its dramaturgy is like describing a Van Gogh as ‘A painting with a bunch of flowers.'”
While del Toro had nothing but praise for Spielberg’s talents as a director, he made sure to note that the film’s virtuosity stems from the work of Spielberg’s many collaborators. In praising the artists who work in various below-the-line departments, he took a not-so-subtle dig at the Oscars for choosing not to broadcast many of the crafts awards at this year’s ceremony.
“And this is why every craft in our discipline needs to be honored,” he wrote. “Because a conductor can only deliver with a perfect string section or a perfect wind section- there are few solos in our craft. We need to talk about Cinema in Cinema terms again- and celebrate those who do it.”