By Amber Shields
Edited by Ann Davies, Deborah Shaw, and Dolores Tierney
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Reviewed by Amber Shields
Like the liminal subjects of his films, Mexican director, producer, screenwriter, author, collector, and fanboy Guillermo del Toro also represents a hard to define character. Working between medians, genres, nations, and industries, he seamlessly drifts between worlds, making him a point of fascination not just in terms of his creations but also for the varying contexts in which he produces them. Thus in a period in which, as Paul Julian Smith notes in his foreword, “intermediality” is an “academic buzzword”(x), del Toro in his transnational and intermediate position provides a provocatively topical and appealing figure of study.
The Transnational Fantasies of Guillermo del Toro (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), edited by Ann Davies, Deborah Shaw, and Dolores Tierney, addresses this growing interest in del Toro as an emblematic figure of these trends by bringing together a range of essays exploring the director through his English and Spanish language works. A perennial popular subject, the book does not counter a dearth of del Toro publications, but adds to the growing oeuvre of del Toro literature that, among countless articles, includes recent manuscripts such as Guillermo del Toro: Film as Alchemic Art by Keith McDonald and Roger Clark and John Morehead’s edited collection The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro: Critical Essays. Even del Toro himself has added to this discussion with his published collection Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions (written with Marc Zicree). However what Davies, Shaw, and Tierney’s collection does contribute is a thematically focused and critically rigorous comprehensive look at the director’s significant productions, allowing for the development of greater insight that the editors argue is needed and that provides the value of this volume on del Toro.
In this spirit the collection starts with a section entitled “Del Toro’s Principles and Practices” in which essays by Glenn Ward, Ann Davies, and Rebecca Janicker, unfettered by readings of a particular film or linguistic or cultural context, explore in depth some of the uniting aspects of del Toro’s varying production history that mark him as an auteur. Like his “monster rallies” that, as Glenn Ward describes, “lay bare the genre’s mechanics by dragging and dropping icons from one context to another, cheerfully treating fantastic entities as freely transferable signs, permutating them in pursuit of new possibilities, and serving as a model of the lively resourcefulness of popular genericity”(14), in this section del Toro is also dissected. Exposing the inner elements of his works, these analyses take pieces from varying production contexts in the pursuit of new understandings of the figure of del Toro himself.
This resourcefulness not only gives the monsters, and metaphorically del Toro, life, but also marks them as distinct others, another theme developed throughout this first section and the book. Davies, advancing the idea of the monster as that which is incongruous, touches on del Toro as the transnational director forever out of place, whereas Laura Podalsky’s essay, focusing on his English-language films, asks what his films “have to say about ‘others’” (118) and the transnational messages that his focus on others can take.
After such a refreshing approach at the beginning that truly seems to capture the spirit of the book, it is a bit disappointing to see that the latter half is divided into sections focusing on del Toro’s English-language and Spanish-language works respectively. Though this does not limit the authors of the essays in each section, who continue to make references to the director’s works in both languages and the overarching themes that bind them, the need to create such a seperation demonstrates that at least in academic approaches to del Toro there is still a clear division in how this director is approached.
The individual essays in these last sections nonetheless provide detailed and impassioned accounts of the importance of the director’s oeuvre that serve as an essential critical basis for anybody looking to understand del Toro’s auteurial style and contributions. Despite their focus on specific bodies of work, read in the context of the whole book, and with many articles in dialogue with the same core sources already written on del Toro, the individual pieces contribute to a greater picture of the director that has only more recently been developed. In this vain, the articles by Simon Bacon on The Strain trilogy and Niamh Thorton on del Toro’s big budget production Pacific Rim, a critical flop that is too often politely disregarded in accounts of del Toro, are essential contributions in drawing attention to how del Toro’s less analysed pieces also hold important positions in understanding his intermediality.
Important in its contribution to establishing these more extensive discussions, this volume at times leaves the impression that it could have pushed this discourse even further. Briefly mentioning in the introduction some of del Toro’s other interests, such as producing, analysis of these key new directions in which the director is moving, and ones that seem to truly embody his transnational status, are never developed. Though offering some stimulating comparisons of the director’s work in English and Spanish, highlighted by the essays on other projects such as his books, Transnational Fantasies at times becomes tiresome for those familiar with del Toro. Nonetheless its collation of key readings on the director’s more known works makes this book an essential introduction for those discovering the director and a comprehensive collection for all del Toro scholars and fans.
Clark, Roger and Keith McDonald. Guillermo del Toro: Film as Alchemic Art. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
Del Toro, Guillermo and Marc Zicree. Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions. London: Titan Books, 2013.
Morehead, John. The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro: Critical Essays. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2015.