Guillermo Del Toro: At Home with Monsters at LACMA 2016, Pt. 2

[Note: To read Part 1 of this post, please click here.]

As I mentioned last time, the primary focus of the Guillermo del Toro exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (aka LACMA) that we attended yesterday (Oct. 26, 2016) was naturally on the films and artwork of Mr. Del Toro himself. With the massive collection of props, costumes, storyboards, sketches, and fully realized figures representing his monsters and characters on display, how could it not be so?

But the secondary – though equally as important – focus was on his influences, a great many of which (if not the vast majority) also happen to be my influences as well, but Del Toro filters them through his quite remarkable talent and attention to detail that a high percentage of the time produces hauntingly memorable cinematic art for the world. Me, I just take those same influences and go, "Wow, that monster was pretty cool."

As before, much of the artwork and collection is to be found (normally, when they aren't on display in an exhibition at a museum) at Del Toro's Bleak House. If anyone ever needed an absolutely on the nose answer as to what I would do if I had the money to do whatever I wanted, taking a look at this exhibition is pretty much what you would get. Well, apart from the fact that I would also have a life-size Robby the Robot, a Batmobile, and the Robot from Lost in Space. But you get the gist. Del Toro's commissioned pieces include diorama featuring Harry Earles, Johnny Eck, and Schlitzie the pinhead from Tod Browning's horror classic Freaks, a scene showing Ray Harryhausen sitting comfortably in a chair (while wearing slippers) as he handles some of the models he created for his still astounding stop-motion animation features, Jack Pierce applying makeup to a seated Boris Karloff as they work on creating Frankenstein's Monster, and a fairly elaborate scenario featuring the Monster meeting his Bride while a catty Dr. Pretorius stands aloofly to the side. There was even an oversized lifelike bust of master makeup guru Dick Smith.

Dick Smith, makeup artist extraordinaire.
Frankenstein plays a major part in the exhibition. The head of Karloff's monster looms large over the entrance to the room containing many issues of comics and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and there are numerous spots where paintings of the monster, original Berni Wrightson drawings from his acclaimed illustrated edition (which I still need to replace; note to myself), various editions of the book, and even a life mask of Boris Karloff from 1960 were on display.

Among the life-size figures were writers who count amongst Del Toro's favorites and influences, including (in totally expected fashion) Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. There were also cases displaying the writings and books of Lord Dunsany, Charles Dickens, Andrew Lang, and many others. The case featuring Dickens also contained an assortment of spirit photographs from the mid-19th century, which proved to be one of the more unnerving displays for me, not so much for the supposed spirits contained in the photos but because they were deathbed images of real people.

Of course, Famous Monsters of Filmland and the other Warren Publications played a role in the exhibit. I was a little upset by the width of the box frame surrounding the issues because, in combination with the lighting from above, it served to create shadows on the top row of the comics and magazines making snapping a picture rather annoying. Scattered throughout the collection, I also found some pretty cool artwork from the Warren mags done by Richard Corben.

Of the vast amount of artwork on display in the exhibit, I was more than a little skittish about shooting photographs of it. I know they were fully allowing photos, but for whatever reason – and believe me, I was also a tad bit shy about taking the other photos – I was weirding out a little about taking pictures of paintings. Eventually, I overcame my shyness, but I really wish that I could go back and see all of them again. There was a fantastic Dave Cooper painting over which my brother Mark and I – seeing it at separate moments during the morning – each went equally gaga. I took a quick snap so I could reference it later and look up information on it, but the result was not clear or good enough to post here. I really wish to go back to check it out again.

Other shelves and cases revealed a vast number of interesting images and models. One case which held special interest for me contained several cast statues by Ray Harryhausen from his original designs, such as Talos from Jason and the Argonauts and the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth. Most striking to me was a tableau showing Harryhausen at work filming a scene on his table in his garage. The same case also held the mask from Brian De Palma's The Phantom of the Paradise, and a truly strange marionette of Peter Cushing which went largely unexplained, but was fascinating nonetheless. Another case held various memorabilia from assorted vampire movies, such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, Del Toro's own Blade II, and Nosferatu.

Will I get back to the exhibit again before it closes on November 27? Time and money are against me, but I sure hope to find an opening. There was so much there, I really regretted it after I stepped out to get a snack with the rest of the family, because once I left, I could not get back into it. I could have easily done another hour in there, if not more. Short of getting a chance to work with Del Toro in his real Bleak House, it's the closest that I will get. Should the opportunity arise, I will go again.



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