Masterclass de Guillermo del Toro - Festival Lumière 2017
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Didier Allouch : Cet univers que vous avez créé, cette façon que vous avez de transformer la réalité, de faire de nos cauchemars quelques-uns de nos plus beaux rêves, ça vient d’où ?
Guillermo del Toro: I had a fucked up childhood. I spent a lot of time alone, thinking, observing, and watching people. I read a lot. […]. A lot of things became important when I was a child: biology, anatomy, zoology, art… This is the description of the library of my parents. There was a large encyclopaedia of art, which I read from beginning to end, and an encyclopaedia of health, which I read from beginning to end. I thought I had every disease. I was 8 or 9 years old and I would go to my mother and say “I think I have trichinosis” or “I think I have cirrhosis” because all the symptoms were real.
Didier Allouch: En termes de cinéma, je me permets de vous raconter une anecdote personnelle. Quand j’étais petit, j’ai vu le soir au ciné-club le génialissime Claude Philippe présenter Nosferatu. J’ai vu cette image de Max Schreck en Nosferatu, et je suis devenu fasciné par les monstres. Est-ce qu’il y a une image comme ça pour vous ?
Guillermo del Toro: For me, it was a TV series called The Outer Limits and it was an episode called “The Mutants” with Warren Oates. He was bald with giant eyes. I was in the crib and I started screaming. According to my analyst, that created such an impression that [it was like a reversed] Stockholm syndrome, I started to love monsters. It was a very strange childhood because of the mixture of comic books, TV, horror movies in the cinema, the encyclopaedia of art and the Catholic Church. Now, the Catholic Church in Mexico is second only to the Filipino Church in gory, brutal, and absolutely anatomically accurate maiming of Saints and Jesus. There was a Christ in my church who had an exposed bone fracture: it was kind of green and purple, but his face looked like he was coming. And then they said “The body of Christ” and I said “No, thank you”. It’s too much gluten! The dogma and cosmology of the Catholic Church [was important and] I was raised very Catholic. I remember the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth [was influenced by] a statue of Saint Lucy and she had a plate with her eyes on the tray. She had no eyes and she was bleeding. It made an impression on me because it was such a nice little tray and the eyes were so nicely placed! I was one of the official spokesboys for the Virgin Mary. We would get a medal and we would go in Guadalajara, where there is a Gothic church (it’s like seeing an Aztec building in the middle of Paris). There were catacombs: we would go there on Sundays and practice the speeches for the Virgin Mary. We would look for open crypts when the priest left. One of them was loose and we moved it: we saw the two feet and the soles of the shoes had been eaten and you could see the bones and the dry muscles. And that made a big impression on me. The Catholic [stories] that we read, for example the Seven Maccabee Brothers or Samson and Delilah [show that] a lot of the myths were so fucking gory. The mixture of virtue and violence is fucked up when you are a kid. The whole thing with the Church is really mad. When I was growing up, my grandmother explained to me that I had to pay for the original sin. When I was between four and six – and I promise you I had not sinned at all [at that age] – she said: “You’re going to be in flames for a long, long time, screaming, screaming. But eventually, you’ll get out”. And she said, “if you want to pay ahead, you can pay with pain and offer your pain to Jesus”. She would take the caps of the bottles and put them upside down in my shoes to make my feet bleed. […] That went on and on until my mother discovered my bloodied socks […]. I [was raised by] my grandmother for a long time – I [mention] these details because they are in my movies. My imagination, I think, is shaped by that. My grandmother’s house was an old house and there was a long corridor and at the end of the corridor was the bathroom. That corridor is in The Devil’s Backbone. I would wake up and go and turn into the corridor and I would be afraid of a figure at the end of the corridor. I started very early on as a kid to have lucid dreams, which meant I would wake up in the dream, in the room I was in and it looked real but I was in the dream. Things would be alive in the room: the rug would be made of green fingers waiting to grab me and there were things alive in the cupboards and […] under the bed. One day, when I was very young, I got up in the crib because I couldn’t go to the bathroom and I said “Can you let me go to the bathroom? And I’ll be your friend forever”. And it worked! But the thing is, I started seeing in the monsters a more sincere form of religion. Because the priest wasn’t great, but Frankenstein was great. The creature of Frankenstein was to me a more beautiful martyr figure than Jesus with the exposed fracture. I started adoring them. I loved them. There was the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For me, it was the creature of Frankenstein, the creature from the Black Lagoon and the wolfman. I started loving the monsters because with the monsters, as a child, you don’t have to think. The adults who were supposed to be good with you were bad, the adults who were supposed to protect you beat you – but the monsters, they did what they looked like. You swim with the creature of the Black Lagoon, you’re going to fucking die. So that made more sense. When you internalise these things – the art, the comics, the monsters – at that young age: voilà! What you see there are the things that I have no problem imagining and for me, they make sense. The struggle is to get money to make [these movies]. I know that the genre that I chose is a genre that exists in a dichotomy that is very difficult. […] The dichotomy is to make money and appeal to a large number of people and to displease the artistic establishment. The difference for me is that I practice it with the absolute faith of someone who believes it is art. But I want to reproduce it, this genre, including its defects, because when you play a tango, you want to recognize a tango. The only analogy I found is that of an artist who repurposes and transforms the object through their gaze. Whether it’s Duchamp, signing the urinal, or Lichtenstein blowing up the comic book frame, or Warhol painting the soup cans: these are the only things analogue to the way I see it, because I don’t want to be postmodern, I don’t want to deconstruct [anything]. I want to love it and fuck with it. And that answers, I hope, your first question.
Didier Allouch: Dans Cabinet des horreurs, le livre d’entretiens que vous avez publié, vous avez dit que le fantastique n’était pas une façon d’échapper à la réalité mais de la décoder. Croyez-vous toujours en cela ?
Guillermo del Toro: To me, fairy tales gave birth to horror in terms of narrative, or at least, they were closely related. I do believe that fairy tales were made, originally, as a way of reinterpreting the world. And that’s because at the origins of philosophical thinking or process, at the earliest stages, we needed to use a parable in order to interpret the world. Narrative exercises two vocations: when the cavemen paint the hunt or when the Lumière brothers film the workers coming out of the factory, that’s the chronicle […]. But when the cavemen paint a serpent eating the sun and giving birth to the moon, that’s myth. And that’s Méliès. The fantasy is when you lower your guard and you are not talking about a specific thing. It’s not from the front page of a newspaper: you’re talking about universal things, whether you want it or not. If you read the Grimms fairy tales or La Fontaine or Hans Christian Hendersen, they lower their guard […] and their stance towards the world comes out. The exercise I try to practice is to do fifty-fifty instinctive and organisational. Because I’m Mexican and we organise. We’re genetically geared to organise little altars. We’re like crabs: we grab little pieces of jewellery and we organise them and we are very happy. Every movie I make is an altar to one thing: Cronos is my altar to the Hammer movies, Pacific Rim is my altar to the anime of my childhood and the kaijū movies, and The Shape of Water is my altar to many things combined. These altars tell you who I am. Because what we do as artists and human beings is curate the world and paint a portrait of ourselves. It is impossible for art to be objective. Borges said beautifully: “If I made a poem that encapsulates the whole world, the poem would be the world”. Therefore, our duty as artists is curatorial: we can only put the camera on one side, not everywhere at the same time. We cannot choose all the lenses; we choose one lens. And of the multitude of occurrences of the same event, we choose one to represent. Then the fantasy is even more specific and even more universal. I think that in order to be universal, your creation needs to be specific. The movies that happen everywhere matter nowhere. The movies that happen at any time in history never matter. All the vectors that we cross in a character or in a story need to mean something. Everything we see, our head processes faster at the subconscious level. This suit doesn’t fit me very well; but it’s part of my character and it’s telling you something. You know that I wash my own clothes, because this is terrible. If there’s a stain of coffee, that tells you who I am. Yesterday, we were watching Heat by Michael Mann and the way he tailors Robert De Niro in a grey suit, perfectly tailored with an amazing fabric (it’s either silk or shark skin), is perfectly immaculate but it’s grey – he doesn’t want to be noticed. Al Pacino has off the rack, big lapel cheap suits, with coordinated tie and shirt. That alone is telling a story. The way I do fantasy, I try to use all these things to tell you a story that feels real. It’s not textual; it’s text.
Didier Allouch : En parlant de Heat, avez-vous rendu à Michael Mann son script ? Parce que vous l’aviez dans les mains hier.
Guillermo del Toro: I gave it back. But not all of it. What I offered him to do is what I offered George Miller a few months ago: I offered to go and interview him for two weeks to make a book in which we discuss cinema as a craft. There is a belief right now that cinema is fading and long arc television is rising – which is true. Demographically, it’s true. I’m addicted to both mediums. The supremacy of the long arc, in terms of plot and character, is tremendous. Because of the quickness of downloadable media, our relationship with stories has become very intimate and promiscuous. We literally go to bed with them. You have more sex with your IPad than anyone else. […] The thing that is different [with TV series] is that it generates amazing characters, amazing plot. And they are permanent: when you talk about Walter White, everyone knows who he is. The big difference is that film generates myth and images. In a long arc series, [you can’t quote images] with the precision that you can quote the elevator doors opening in the Shining and the blood coming out – the precision of the composition, you can draw it, good or bad. The image of the baby at the end of 2001, […] the image of the blade slicing the eye in An Andalusian Dog, the image of Chaplin going through the machine – these are images that stay as mythology. I love Deadwood, I love the Sopranos, I adore it, but I can’t fucking quote a single image. I can quote moments – when Tony kills Chris, when they get lost in the woods, but I don’t know the lens, the angle or the composition. Because our craft is seldom discussed in those terms. When you are reviewing a painting, after the 1800s, when photography dispenses with the need of realism, you look at the painting and part of what you are discussing is composition, the vigor of the tracing, the fluidity of the brush stroke, the mass of the painting – these are articulate pieces of language in image creation. I believe that we will elevate and differentiate the craft of cinema the more we discuss image creation in specific terms. I think the master Michael Mann and the master George Miller are fierce, undomesticated motherfuckers and anyone else who wants to do it as a lover of movies, I would love to discuss films – for anyone coming up, as I was when I read Truffaut and Hitchcock. To value our masters formally.
Didier Allouch: Vous aimez citer Renoir, qui disait qu’on peint le même arbre toute sa vie. Est-ce que ça veut dire que tout était déjà dans Chronos ?
Guillermo del Toro: Maybe. I think it’s very likely, in the same way it is for every filmmaker that has a universe. That would happen even if the first movie exposes everything that you’re going to say. Truffaut said it beautifully. I interviewed the Coen brothers who said that everything was already in Blood Simple. The fact is, to me, that doesn’t mean you’re repeating yourself. It’s like finding your range and your voice is your voice. When you listen to Sinatra, at the beginning, he had a very different range. When he trained his voice as an instrument, he gained command, but his voice was found in his first record. What is beautiful to hear with Sinatra – or in the case of Mexico, a guy we love, whose name is José José – is the command of the instrument. And I think that’s what happens: you can reach other genres, you can hide sadness in a happy tune, you can do many other things. José José is the master of the “poor bastard”: when you break up, you can have a bottle of tequila, a record by José Alfredo Jiménez and one by José José. And then you wake up a week later, equally fucked up!
I think we evolve: you paint that tree better and better and better and at the end of your life, you’re painting that tree with one single brush stroke. That is why we need to discuss our craft.
Didier Allouch : Je me souviens d’avoir parlé avec vous juste après l’arrêt de la production de Mountain of Madness, le film que vous deviez faire avec Tom Cruise il y a quelques années maintenant, et vous m’aviez dit cette phrase qui m’est restée dans la tête : « l’état naturel d’un film est de ne pas exister. Les films qui arrivent sur nos écrans sont des monstres ». […] Pensez-vous toujours cela ?
Guillermo del Toro: Yes. If you think about it, these are enterprises that cost millions of dollars – or hundreds of thousands, depending on your range – but what you expect to earn as a regular human being in your lifetime, you need to raise time X to make a movie. And that is really rare because the people with the money are assholes. They look backwards, they don’t want to go away from their safe place; and the filmmaker looks forward and say “come over, let’s go!” Most of the time, they don’t want to go. Sometimes we fuck them up and we lose everything. Because we are crazy assholes. When Alfonso [Cuarón] and I met a guy in Mexico, Jorge Vergara, who was a billionaire, I said “We’ll make you a millionaire!”
Didier Allouch : Est-ce que c’est toujours une question d’argent ?
Guillermo del Toro: For them, absolutely. But a film maker is not a fucking poet or a painter; when I die, you’re not going to open a drawer and find fifty movies I made secretly. […] What is beautiful about making a movie is that you literally […] arrange the efforts of hundreds of people into a single gesture. It’s like conducting [an orchestra], but you need the musicians.
Didier Allouch : Est-ce que cette frustration vis-à-vis des projets non aboutis vous a nourri pour le reste ?
Guillermo del Toro: A movie that is made and then fails is worse than a movie that never gets made. The movies that never happened make, you think you could have made a masterpiece. The movie that you made looks at you, in all its horrible modesty, and tells you “You fucked up again!” The biggest fish is always the one that got away. I have three or four instances in which my designers and I have spent six, seven, eight months, a year and half or two years designing the entire world. And it hurts, but I always tell them it’s practice. We got paid to depurate our visual language. There’s never that much lost and the world and culture will survive. Everybody’s lives will be the same – well, they would be a little better if you had Mountains of Madness. But the beauty, what we don’t get, is the act of communication. […] I don’t socialise much, but the people who like what I do like it at a very deep level. The less successful the movie, the more you love it.
Didier Allouch : Une chose qui me fascine chez vous, c’est que vous êtes un fanboy, un collectionneur, vous êtes un cinéphile. Mais vous ne faites pas des films de fan, c’est toujours autre chose. Comment arrive-t-on à trouver l’équilibre ?
Guillermo del Toro: I came up at the time the culture was being defined like that and at the time you embraced that idea, because at the turn of the century, everything was full of hope. I felt the medium of comics was brought to a maturity, you had people experimenting with the medium and it felt really good. My commitment goes beyond the word “fan”. I think it’s a complete madness for images. More so now, because I see so many images that are beautiful but don’t have any pain or humanity. The way I see film and our craft changes over time, and it’s not as casual. I’m not a collector, I don’t give films monetary value. For The Shape of Water, I put in my salary and then I invested money of my own to get the aspect of the creature, visually, the way I wanted. We took three years to design the creature. But I do collect art. The way I saw it, I’m buying a very nice, beautiful, crazy piece of art, that is going to live with me and that I can share with the world.
Didier Allouch : Vous avez d’ailleurs créé une exposition de vos objets qui a voyagé, et qui est allée jusqu’à Toronto. C’est important pour vous de partager ça avec les gens ?
Guillermo del Toro: Most people react beautifully to the exhibition because they see a variety of influences. My houses are two houses that communicate and host thirteen libraries. These are houses made of art and books. What is misunderstood about the genre is that if you like horror, people think you like airport paperback horror novels. The reality is that you can start with X and then if you read through the history of the fantastic, you’re going to end up meeting Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Borges, … It’s the same with paintings and films: we can start with Roger Corman and you’re going to stumble on Hour of the Wolf by Bergman, you’re going to stumble on Żuławski, you’re going to stumble on Murnau and Dreyer. We have to admit and enshrine the fact that this is a genre that has given us some of the most indelible images in the history of the cinema. That’s the purpose of the exposition: the road to monsters is deeply ingrained in us and deeply revealing of us. When I saw Karloff at the threshhold, I was St Paul on the road to Damascus. My main labor is evangelical. It’s an evangelic work.
Didier Allouch : Est-ce que vous recherchez une réaction particulière chez le public ?
Guillermo del Toro: Sometimes the reactions surprise me. But I do know that the only way to find out is to show the film. I normally show it to my friends and they give accurate and brutal feedback. The pact we have is that if the movie hasn’t been released, it’s a piece of shit. If the movie has been released, it’s a masterpiece. It makes no difference whatsoever.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Guillermo del Toro, Didier Allouch, "Masterclass de Guillermo del Toro - Festival Lumière 2017", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mars 2018. Consulté le 10/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/arts/cinema/masterclass-de-guillermo-del-toro-festival-lumiere-2017