Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guillermo Del Toro Roundtable #1: Geometria

Individual Reviews are useful, but criticism is a dialogue, not a monologue. I’m Max O’Connell of The Film Temple, he’s Loren Greenblatt of Screen Vistas, and we’ve got some things to say in the Guillermo Del Toro Roundtable. 

Loren's Grade: B+ (Loren doesn't use the same idiotic 100-point scale I do)
Max's Grade: B+/75

Max O’Connell: We’re back! Our work on the James Cameron Roundtable was some of the most fun I’ve had working on the blog, and it was really well received for both Loren and I, so we’re doing it again, and this time, it's personal!

Loren Greenblatt: It really is personal for us, we really, truly love Guillermo Del Toro.

MO: In time for his first film in five years, Pacific Rim. We decided to start with an early short of his called Geometria. (Director's Cut online no subtitles, here's the OC)

LG: It’s one of his first films, but in a sense it’s his most recent film because while the never happy with the cut, and he did a new cut for the Criterion edition of Cronos, his feature debut.

MO: It’s technically his tenth short, and he also did a lot of television work alongside Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki on the Twilight Zone-influenced Mexican TV show La Hora Marcada, but this is the earliest film of his that’s widely available on DVD.

LG: The plot of Geometria is the simplest thing ever. There’s a kid who’s really bad in school, and he doesn’t want to take the geometry test ever again, so he pulls out his copy of the Necronomicon, which, we all have a copy, right?

MO: I think I lost mine in the move back from school.

LG: Basically, according to this Necronomicon, if you draw a pentagon around you, you’ll be protected when you call demons to fulfill you wishes. As you might expect, it goes wrong. He makes two wishes: to never take the geometry test again, and to be reunited with his dead father.

LG: It’s this really charming little short that shows a lot of his influences and allows him to find his own stamp on them. He’s a big fan of horror films from the 70s, Italian Giallo films in particular. Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento especially. Argento (Suspiria) basically told the cinematographer of his films: “we’re going to light every part of the frame a completely different color, damn it,” and Del Toro follows his example to some degree.

MO: Del Toro really captures the lurid colors of Argento, but also the tactile gooeyness of Fulci. There’s something really nice about the nastiness of this thing, combined with the cheap but really charming rubber monster suits.

LG: Del Toro had his own special effects company at this point, and he was building towards his first feature length film. There's a nice detail where the mother, who doesn’t approve of her son’s interest in horror stuff over school, is watching this odd, synth, sweded version of The Exorcist that’s dubbed into Italian (like the film Geometria itself, and all voices are dubbed by Del Toro).

MO: And the demon looks kind of like Linda Blair. And there’s some Cronenberg influence with the body horror of it, which is spectacularly gooey.

LG: Del Toro’s just really well-versed in horror history. As he goes on, he's going to find his own spin on it, but for now he's doing a great job just riffing off what's already out there. It's a really strong first, or early, film.

MO: He’s even already found his color palette, to some degree, with the amber and cyan.

LG: The technique yes, but the shades are still very much in Bava and Argento's color palette, and he’ll develop it further to a more distinctive Del Toro color space, but I love the contrast between cyan blue day-glo effect and the bright pink of the mother’s fingernails.

MO: Or the goofy red glow as the demons arrive. Del Toro also uses sound really well. Aside from the dubbed voices, he introduces the mother by having a toy bat on a stick swung around her head by the son, and it’s making this squeaky bat sound that’s absolutely hilarious.

LG: There’s a lot of wonderful cartoon sound effects. I love that the demon has bubblegum that makes a perfect little pop.

MO: Now, this thing does reflect somewhat on Del Toro’s upbringing.

LG: Yes. He was into demons and monsters as a kid, and his grandmother, a really strict Catholic, had no sense of humor about it. She kept holy water around to exorcise him, put bottle caps in his shoes to mortify his flesh …that the poor guy didn’t end up more messed up is incredible. But he has a really good sense of humor, and this film kind of plays with it.

MO: It’s based on a short story by Frederic Brown called “Zero for Geometry” (or “Naturally” in other titles). In the DVD intro to the short, Del Toro introduces Brown as a master of the twist ending like O. Henry.

LG: The twist is that the kid needs to draw the pentagon to protect himself and (spoilers) he drew the pentagon wrong. (end of spoilers)

MO: Loren noted while we were watching that it was the worst-looking pentagon ever, and it ends up coming back: he drew a hexagon. And not even a good-looking hexagon. This is a shitty hexagon.

LG: It’s no wonder this kid failed Geometry class. It’s pretty great that the only thing left he has to turn to is the devil, and even that doesn’t work.

MO: Holy god, can he not draw a shape. It’s amazing to me, because I suck at math and even I managed to pull a C+ in Geometry. Whenever you make a deal with a demon, it’s probably not going to go over well. It doesn’t go well with the dead father, because he’s brought back as a horrible looking monster that eats the mother.

LG: He gets to never take the geometry test- because he gets eaten!

MO: Del Toro’s also playing with some of his key themes, like the misunderstood youth. The kid’s imaginative, but he doesn’t take things seriously, so he’s pushed aside. There’s hints of Pan’s Labyrinth there.

LG: Or the unfairness of life and the powerlessness of protecting loved ones, which turns up a lot in his films.

MO: There’s also a trickiness of demons that hints at how the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth is going to try to trick Ofelia into doing some questionable things.

LG: It’s just a really well made and charming short. I think I’d give it a B+

MO: I’d do the same, though if this were a student film and I were a teacher I’d give it a curve to an A+. He’s clearly found his voice to some degree already, and it’s the start of a great filmmaker.

LG: Everyone should have a first film this strong.

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