Cabinet of Curiosities – Review

Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions by Guillermo del Toro and Marc Scott Zicree

Published in 2013

Pages: 263

Genre: Nonfiction, collector book

“For Guillermo del Toro, it all starts with the eye – or, more accurately, the lens.”

Guillermo del Toro has come to prominence in the Hollywood system for his work directing the films Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and Pacific Rim (2013); however, the truth of the artist and his abilities exceeds that with which many of us associate him. The aim of Cabinet of Curiosities, co-written by del Toro and Marc Scott Zicree, is to open the doors into a visionary filmmaker’s mind and conjure all the wonderful, strange, and sometimes frightening aspects of his genius. From famous movie monsters to Pre-Raphaelite painters, comic books to art cinema, the scope of influences del Toro harnesses in his work is as engulfing as the man’s kind personality.

Bleak House.jpg
The entryway of del Toro’s Bleak House.

Before diving too far into the visual feast of the book, it is important to make a distinction very early: Guillermo del Toro is an artist – he can draw, paint, write, and direct; he speaks English and Spanish fluently, and has been able to since the age of 10. As a child, he began to read art and health encyclopedias in addition to a lot of literature that was probably a bit above his age range. He was a pale, blonde child growing up in Mexico and, as such, felt ostracized. He soon found a kinship with Frankenstein’s monster and began drawing and sculpting monsters of his own. He describes not only  his appreciation of monster comics, but how he is also a fan of Pre-Raphaelite symbolist painters and sees his role as director as someone who is there to arrange the pieces of a film into a single piece of art.

Neil Gaiman.jpg
An essay by Neil Gaiman and a drawing from one of del Toro’s notebooks.

Cabinet of Curiosities begins with an introduction by del Toro’s friend, James Cameron, and includes essays by John Landis, Alfonso Cuarón, Ron Perlman, Adam Savage, Neil Gaiman, Cornelia Funke, Mike Mignola, and Tom Cruise. The book is filled to the brim with photographs from his films, concept art, and his Bleak House collection; a personal labor of love, Bleak House is del Toro’s second home and studio where he houses his immense collection of macabre statues, books, and other personal talismans. There are also short essays by Del Toro in the early section where his passion for his favorite painters, writers, and artists bleeds through the page.

The introduction to one of the movie sections.

Making up the majority of the book’s content, the “Notebooks” section goes through every film he has directed from Cronos (1993) to Pacific Rim (2013). As a budding filmmaker, he began taking notes in his twenties and eventually started writing them in a specific style, like a found grimoire, for his daughters to read and have as mementos when he is gone. Most of written content made up of conversations between Zicree and del Toro about the notes shown in the book. There are parallels drawn between these notebooks and those created by renowned inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci, since the myriad sketches and illustrations are surrounded by handwritten notes and ideas. The notebook pages themselves are presented with translations in the margins since del Toro writes in a combination of English and Spanish in the original texts and his handwriting can be difficult to read.

Pan's Labrynth.jpg
Concept drawings of the tree from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

Like the collected works of any artists, there are motifs and ideas that continue to occur in del Toro’s films. He will fixate on an idea and try to use it in one of his current projects; he is constantly working on at least two projects at a time, so if something doesn’t work now, he will save it for later. His films often make use of clockwork motifs, intense color palettes, insects, genre subversion, and focus on children or people who live in loneliness. Despite the darkness of these themes, there is hope and positivity in the face of horror. The final section of the book details the projects that he hasn’t been able to complete, but still wants to accomplish someday; it closes out with a final thought by Tom Cruise, who was set to work with del Toro on a film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which has been a project del Toro has been hoping to make his entire career.

Cabinet of Curiosities is a veritable smorgasbord of content for del Toro fans; intimate looks at his collections, his personal notebooks, and his process all are here for consumption as a truly unique artist opens himself to those who enjoy his work. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t really a sign off by del Toro at the end, except for the lovely acknowledgement of those who helped make the book a reality, but I suppose that this is because he is by no means done creating. Since the publication of the book, del Toro has made two television shows (The Strain, based on the trilogy of novels he wrote with author Chuck Hogan, and the Netflix series Trollhunters) and directed the feature films Crimson Peak (2015) and The Shape of Water (2017), the latter of which has garnered accolades galore. Though his style is distinct, there is an universal appeal to his stories, with their themes of loss, time, and innocence, that allows his work to transcend any genre and reach into the true heart of humanity.

Verdict: 4 curious collections out of 5

Recommended for: Fans of Guillermo del Toro and his movies, monster movie fanatics, Hellboy movie fans, those who seek out the macabre and gothic, and those who want to learn more about one of the most visionary directors in the business.

Not recommended for: People who don’t like Guillermo del Toro or his movies, those who avoid the macabre or Gothic, people who habitually say “Aych-Eee-double hockey sticks”, those who confuse Guillermo del Toro with actor Benicio Del Toro, or young children.

24 thoughts on “Cabinet of Curiosities – Review

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