Last night at the ArcLight I was treated to one of the best movies of the year and one of the best talkbacks of my life. Guillermo del Toro gives great Q&A. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, drop everything and go.
I wish I’d had some paper to write down the influences he listed for this marvelous movie. The few I remember are Borges, Lovecraft, Bettleheim, the Symbolist generation and a book I will now have to read because of his big recommend: The Science of Fairy Tales. Del Toro made no apologies for his omnivorous taste. “Culture is not what is in a museum. Culture is what inspires you.” He said video games and comic books deserve as much respect as feature films and Goya. He said the best writing was not in movies, but in the HBO show The Wire.
Del Toro draws in a notebook he carries around with him always (and frequently loses) and, based on some characters he had sketched out, he pitched Pan’s Labyrith, promising to deliver a script in nine weeks. Nine months later, it was finished. (He compared his dedication to writing the same things over again to Jack in The Shining.)
The extra work paid off, because Pan’s Labyrinth is a great work of art. A fantasy tale of a young girl who must perform three tasks before she can be crowned a princess of the underworld mixes with a very real and very violent tale of Franco Fascists vs. Resistance Fighters in a forest outpost in Spain in 1944. The stories inform each other, and suggest a child’s imagination is a to-be-cherished form of civil disobedience.
Pan’s Labyrinth is the only must-see movie I can think of with a vomitting toad. Not for the toad, but the visual and spiritual imagination do I give it my highest recommendation.