I think people often overlook Guillermo del Toro when they talk about the greatest living directors. The guy does not miss. His mind is delightfully unique, telling stories that we haven't seen before. Even his adaptation of Nightmare Alley, which was a book and a movie before his version, stands on its own as something wholly different. It's darker, weirder, and more layered than most movies we see today.
In Vanity Fair's most recent episode of "Notes on a Scene," Bradley Cooper and director Guillermo del Toro break down the scene where Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is on a manhunt at the carnival for the "geek" that has escaped. Cooper and del Toro explain how they built up the complexity of this scene by layering mazes and labyrinth-like funhouse elements while highlighting visual premonitions that appear throughout the film. And this showcases how no one layers motifs like del Toro.
Check out this video from Vanity Fair, and let's chat after the break.
Watch Guillermo del Toro Unlock His Underrated Skill of Layering Visual Motifs
As stated above, del Toro is just one of the most fun and genius directors alive. The guy is also so generous with his knowledge and experience. Seeing him work with Cooper, who is a director in his own right, is really an interesting display.
Nightmare Alley was one of my favorite movies from last year. It took us on an incredible, full-circle journey through the muck. It's a horror-noir with an intense theme.
In the scene they break down, the hunt for the "geek," we actually see layered visual motifs that tell us the story of the whole film. Our lead enters into the mouth of the devil, committing all of the seven deadly sins, only to be spit back out. Seeing the movie the first time, you might not notice it, but upon rewatch, those layers are there! So how does del Toro do stuff like that?
The simple answer is that he has his fingers in every pot.
Del Toro speaks about designing these parts of the script but also working in tandem with his crew to make sure the sets look right. Obviously, with Cooper there too, it's setting it up with the actor so he understands the visuals and what is to come. This kind of careful dedication to craft cannot be overstated.
But ask yourself, are you looking into how sets, locations, and small beats inside the story can be accentuated by theme? This character does not have to enter a funhouse labeled with sins and the devil, but he does because the story is layered with that emotion. He does because the director understands fully why it should be like that.
How much do you understand your plot? What visuals might work as a metaphor for your theme or story? Are there ways to subtly incorporate them? Del Toro is a master at this, and you really only know after the fact. But you have to admit, the mood of walking through the devil's mouth into a maze is sort of genius. Not only is it a delicious set-piece, it really does reflect where this story takes us. Learn from it and use these lessons wisely.
Did you notice this moment in the film? Tell us if there are others in the comments!
Source: Vanity Fair