Del Toro’s Master Class Recap: REBECCA

Originally published for Rue Morgue (August 27, 2014).

Photo Courtesy of Ian Gibson

“Welcome to this screening of I AM CHRIS FARLEY.” And thus, with his trademark self-depreciating humour, Guillermo Del Toro kicked off the Gothic Master Class at TIFF last night to a full-capacity audience.

The Master Classes have become an annual tradition here in Toronto, Del Toro’s second home. And for him, there’s as much business as there is pleasure in curating this film and lecture series. “The reason I wanted to do this is because I love the idea of discussing films in the same depth that we can literature or painting, or any of the major arts. There was a time when we used to discuss it like that and somewhat it got lost in the last 15 years. The discourse started to wrap into the business, box office… and it has become a necessity for me to do this, to re-engage in the fact that what we do is a form of art and a form of narrative art that can drink from the most ancient sources.”

Setting the tone for his three nights of “school”,  Del Toro gave a brief overview of The Gothic Tradition, including its symbolism as well as the origins of the sub-genre: “The Gothic Romance is a very peculiar creature. For me, horror surges out of the vocation of the fairytale…to talk about the dark side of the universe and to talk about the forces that shape us as humans.

Out of that comes a movement, over the centuries, towards rationalism. We look back, and we do it even now, we look back on things that are myth, fable, parable… like those things are for childish minds. But the fact is there is a moment in time in the 18th Century, where there is a surge against rationalism – “The Age Of Reason”, making everything prim-and-proper for the good of intellect – and there is a rebellion of the spirit. The spirit demands that we reembrace nature and fable and myth.

We are going to hopefully drag the gothic, and the gothic romance in particular, all the way up to now.

Following Del Toro’s introduction, the house lights dimmed and the opening credits for Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA filed the screen. The adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier’s novel was Hitchcock’s first film in Hollywood, marking the transition from his early days (Hitchcock’s “British years”, as Del Toro pointed out. The resulting film, despite its then-contemporary trappings and mores, has all the hallmarks of the Gothic tradition: a manor with a shadowy legacy, a dark and brooding patriarch haunted by the past and his innocent young bride, drawn into a web of mysteries and secrets.

 After the film’s fiery coda and the final credits rolled, Del Toro took to the stage and continued with the lecture portion of the night. It was here that he went into the film’s history – the clashes between Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick, his displeasure with the film’s telegraphing and over-abundant score (as Del Toro put it, the music “Mickey Moused” every action and emotion on the screen to a near-cartoonish level), as well as how the then-untested director and Gothic Romance were actually a perfect fit.

You must remember this. First of all, two things: Gothic Romance was basically punk, it was an affront to the establishment when it was birthing. It was emotion and rote melodrama and a lot of things that weren’t ‘proper’ to express or feel, filled with innuendo. And Hitchcock, by the same token, was an incredibly modern filmmaker at the time. He was a guy that was very daring. There were plenty of sexual layers in the movie – he was an expert at dodging The Hayes Code… he would remove one perversion and add three.

There are two more films left to screen in the Gothic Master Class: tonight’s screening of David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS and Monday’s ( August 31st) final installment, Robert Stevenson’s JANE EYRE. Rush Tickets will be made available at the TIFF Box Office one hour prior to screening.

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