“Visual Protein”: Guillermo Del Toro at the New Yorker Festival


Too ugly to be photographed at the New Yorker Festival: The director, elsewhere.

Guillermo Del Toro in Conversation with Daniel Zalewski
The New Yorker Festival
Director’s Guild Theatre
Saturday October 4

Aspiring filmmakers gripped their Moleskins as the portly Guillermo Del Toro, an uncanny doppelganger for Michael Moore (Mexican accent aside), fielded questions from The New Yorker‘s features editor Daniel Zalewski at the magazine’s festival on Saturday. Del Toro and Moore share more than a fashion sense (or lack thereof) and impressive girth: both, it swiftly became clear, see film as a way to get political.

What do the visceral, fantastical, and often violent scenes in Hellboy, Blade 2, and Pan’s Labyrinth have to do with politics? In the swanky Director’s Guild Theatre on 57th Street, Del Toro spoke to an audience of 20-somethings in torn jeans and skinny ties, who each forked over $35 to attend (and got their money’s worth by gorging on the free wine and chocolate on offer in the theatre lobby). For Del Toro, life, and politics by extension, is entirely fantasy—from the imaginary lines we call national borders to the video games we dismiss, wrongly, he says, as immature and irrelevant—and he said he hoped filmgoers would find parallels between supernatural tales and cultural realities. Of Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro said he wove fantasy with the Spanish civil war to convey the similarities between human villains and mythical monsters.

Luckily for those interested more in escapism than symbolism, Del Toro is also a stickler for splendor onscreen. With his knack for creepy, visual storytelling, Del Toro said he wanted to remind his audience “why they were once afraid of the dark.” The self-taught artist keeps elaborate journals for each film, where he renders drawings and descriptions of every character and scene. The manic scrawls of words, surrounded by stunning, detailed sketches (one with red ink dribbled around the page to evoke droplets of blood) were shown on a projection screen to the audience, who laughed when Del Toro said he had just started his first drawing class last week.

The man is passionate about his craft, but don’t get him started on most modern horror flicks: after likening 2004’s Godzilla to “rubber monster porn,” Del Toro opined that the best horror movies are the most visual, and often the most violent. “We need to see the monsters, and it’s my passion to take them from idea to incarnate,” he said. “I don’t just make visual candy—I make visual protein.”—Katie Drummond