BOOK REVIEW: Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections and Other Obsessions

deltorocabinet.jpg.size-230“The artefact you hold in your hands is an unprecedented portal into the clockworks of a wondrous mind” – James Cameron. “To learn what we fear is to learn who we are” – Guillermo del Toro. This review could have opened with any one of a dozen quotes from this marvellous book and would almost serve as a review in its own right. Guillermo del Toro has written and directed films such as Cronos, Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim. Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections and Other Obsessions is a window into the mind of a singular talent, which is a must for any fan of del Toro’s, cinema or art.

With his movies – from blockbusters like Hellboy to the Oscar-winning Pans Labyrinth – comics, and novels, del Toro has proven himself to be a unique visionary. His creative crucible can be seen in his illustrated notebooks. Here these records of his creative process form the basis for a stunning illustrated book and insightful examination of the themes that haunt, electrify, and enrich his work.CabinetofCuriosities3

What you have in this particularly large and heavy tome is a collection of thoughts and musings from del Toro, with over 300 illustrations from his notebooks, as well as storyboards and production designs from his collaborators, photos of his personal collection of curiosities and movie memorabilia, and stills from his films. There are images, diagrams, sculptures, sketches and paintings which explain who Guillermo del Toro is, and that will leave a lasting impression on the reader.

“There is nothing compared to how profoundly knowing him has changed the course of my life” – Ron Perlman.

Of course, I’m a fan of his films, therefore I am not as objective as a non-fan might be. So first, this is what the book contains: after a foreword from James Cameron and an introduction (written by contributor and interviewer Marc Scott Zicree – author of The Twilight Zone Companion), there is a tour of his private collections in Bleak House. You couldn’t live in Bleak House. It is filled with nightmares. It is where del Toro works and houses his library, giant Frankenstein head, full-sized Sammael, life-sized Lovecraft, and other artefacts from his films and influences (I don’t want to spoil the surprise of naming too many for the reader).

Zicree then interviews del Toro about his artistic inspirations, especially Goya, symbolists and others. Del Toro explains how certain artists or images inspired scenes and characters within his films. Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World is referenced in Blade II, as an example. Next up, del Toro himself takes the pen himself and talks about his favourite symbolist artists including Rops and Redon (all new names to this reader) and how they inspired him during the film-making process. You can already see how intriguing this book is.

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Another interview follows, this time looking at what film as a medium means to del Toro and how he started out as film-maker.  All the while, illustrations and photographs illuminate each page. More from del Toro on the art of storytelling follows. There is a brief mention of some horror icons (Shelly, Poe, Machen and Lovecraft) before the main event. The notebooks.

“I want [my daughters] to understand that being a grown-up is not being boring. It’s being alive.” – Guillermo del Toro.

Each of the films del Toro has directed (Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Pacific Rim) as well as some that have slipped by (The Left Hand of Darkness and At the Mountains of Madness amongst them) are explained in terms of the famous notebooks Del Toro keeps. He even explains why there are no images from his abortive attempt at directing The Hobbit. Each film has a chapter and in each, Del Toro explains to Zicree his processes, what each of the images and pages mean and how they were developed for the screen. Entire pages from the notebooks are reproduced and images are directly referred to. So we have, for example, the evolution of the ghost Santi in The Devil’s Backbone from notebook to concept art to sculpture to movie still. A similar process is repeated with the Reapers in Blade II and the characters and creatures in the Hellboy universe (along with some interesting anecdotes of working with Mike Mignola). My favourite page is sketch of the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth signed by Steve King [sic]. There are also a lot of del Toro’s thoughts within the notebooks, explaining how he comes up with ideas and how the sometimes migrate into other films. All the while, del Toro commentates on the inspirations and ideas within the pages.

Also within each chapter are images from del Toro’s collaborators and inspirations, as well as some of his own storyboards. They contain original concept art from TyRuben Elligton on Mimic. Art and collaboration with Mignola from Hellboy. Concept art from Wayne Barlowe. With contributions from many others too. And there are also stills and production shots from the movies.

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Throughout the book you’ll find thought and comment from John Landis, Alfonso Cuaron, Ron Perlman, Neil Gaiman, Mike Mignola and others, offering alternative perspectives.

My only criticism, which seems harsh, is that there are almost too many words. While the interviews and first person comment from del Toro are indeed a fascinating insight into his mind and the film-making process in general, I just wanted to have more pictures. Which is slightly churlish of me, as there are pages and pages of images; all of which are horrific and beautiful, fascinating and creepy, wondrous and honest.

There are two elements to Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections and Other Obsessions. There is the film-maker and there is the person. The book as a whole is not only one of the most beautiful books I have seen, but is an illuminating insight into a unique talent and also how modern genre films are made. But more than all that, it is a simply spectacular book. Buy it.

“I look forward to being a part of his exceptionally imaginative world” – Tom Cruise.

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AUTHOR: Guillermo del Toro with Marc Scott Zicree
PUBLISHER: Harper Design

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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