marm— Oark desires
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro tells Trevor Johnston how he brought art to the horror genre in Cronos.
The ﬁrst time be screened his debut ﬁlm Cronos to the various Mexican ans bodies who‘d chipped in for the budget. young writer-director Guillermo del Toro met with a stony-faced response he hadn't quite anticipated. ‘What they wanted to know,‘ remembers the 29- year—old from Guadalajara. ‘was why l‘d made a horror movie as an art movie. For them it didn‘t quite make sense. but I myself always had great conﬁdence in what 1 was trying to do with the piece. Basically. i think you can categorise the cinema in terms of “A” movies and "B" movies. and if you look at it that way. Cronos is deﬁnitely a “8" picture premise shot in the style of an "A" production. it takes the kind of idea you‘d ﬁnd in a Roger Corman flick. but it moves to this very stately son of rhythm. Mixing these things together gives me a strange ﬂavour that I like.‘
Well. strange it might be. but Cronos is one of the most vital and original genre pictures to have turned up in quite a while. offering a highly individual slant on the vampire tradition in the way it combines familiar vein—piercing setpieces. a devilish dark humour and even touching family drama. Sombre and extraordinarily assured in its
construction. it follows the progress of grey-haired antiques seller Federico Luppi‘s unfortunate physical decay when he takes delivery ofa 16th century alchemist‘s mysterious gizmo — the eponymous Cronos device — and ﬁnds himself unwittingly transformed into a repulsive fiend with an unquenchable thirst for blood. While the protagonist tries to disguise his plight from his wife and small granddaughter. on the other side of town dying industrialist Claudio Brook and his thuggish nephew Ron Perlman are also on the hunt for the life-giving little box of tricks. and seem to be willing to go to any lengths to lay their
‘highly individual slant on the vampire tradition’
hands on it.
What‘s remarkable about the ﬁlm is the way it brings a striking emotional undertow to the kind of material that might easily have been milked for pulp sensationalism. ‘thn I ﬁrst got together with the producer, 1 described it as “a horror melodrama with the tone of a comedy“.‘ reflects del Tom. a cheerily ebullient and rather chubby individual rather reminiscent ofthe kind of character who always got bumped off ﬁrst in the Friday The 13th slasher pics. ‘1 believe very much that a horror ﬁlm needs a tender core for it truly to succeed. Otherwise. it‘sjust extreme violence that doesn‘t give a
shit about human life. Cronos is a love story that goes beyond appearances. What happens when your husband or your grandpa turns into a wretch? One of the main ideas in the ﬁlm is the notion that you have to love the people you love no matter what becomes of them.‘
‘i believe very much that a horror film needs a tender core for it truly to succeed. Otherwise, it’s just extreme violence that doesn’t give a shit about human life.’
When so many of the mindless titles adorning the video shelves these days are just so much corpuscle-splattered nonsense. it‘s immensely satisfying to see a horror movie that cares about its characters with such sincerity. There‘s a pronounced tension in Cronos between the sympathy we feel for its elderly ghoul and our natural revulsion at his outward appearance. enough indeed to evoke memories of all-time classics like King Kong or the James Whale Frankenstein ﬁlms. For his part. del Toro claims a key influence that‘s surprisingly closer to home (ours. not his) by recognising the imaginative sway of the old Hammer ﬁlms. ‘Most of all.‘ he smiles, ‘l wanted Cronos to look like something with Peter Cushing that Terence Fisher might have directed. He was such an under-rated talent. very ﬂuid with the camera. and he always showed a real compassion for the so-called monster.‘
C ronos opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Mon 27 Feb and the Edinburgh Filmhouse on Mon 13 Mar.
Beyond the fringe
Now that it has reached its tenth year, the Fringe Film and Video Festival finds itself in a strange position. Its international reputation is such that it is able to hold its head high with the best of the European experimental film festivals; it can attract work from 37 different countries and submissions from such respected filmmakers as Tom Kaiin, director of Swoon. Yet, on home turf, it has to fight for recognition, funding and audience acceptance. The reason isn’t that the work on show is unnecessarin difficult; it’s just that in the UK there is no real culture of understanding for this brand of filmmaking.
Perhaps the word ‘fringe’ is part of the problem: audiences expect this work to be exclusive and specialised. instead, what filmgoers will be treated to over three days in Edinburgh is a selection of stimulating, funny, exasperating, challenging, infuriating films, many of which will never be seen again in this country, even at other festivals. In the case of the-
Post Mortem, showing in the ‘Fantasy Or Reality?’ programme
FFVF, the only thing that is predictable
is that you can’t predict what’s
Joint co-ordinators Becky Lloyd and David Gumings took over the running of the Festival last October, and have made it their task to open it out to wider audiences. Rather than using the tenth anniversary as an excuse to pat the event on the back - there is only one retrospective screening — their emphasis is on work with cutting
edge content. As a birthday present,
however, the Post Office has sponsored another prize to join the Post Office Best Short Film Award (chosen by audiences), the Special Jury Award and the Hammerhead Video Camerawork Award. The new award highlights innovative animation and is in memory of Len Lye, one of the GPO Film Unit’s most influential early members.
‘There’s a lot of animation in the Festival, but what we’ve done is spread it out through the screenings,’ explains Becky Lloyd. ‘One of the things we want to get away from is marginalising techniques, saying that animation is something separate, something pretty, which doesn’t really deal with issues. That’s rubbish. Across the Festival, all the work we’re showing is political. There’s nothing marginal or “fringe” about the work; each individual film is important in itself.’
The Festival is split into two main areas in Edinburgh. Nineteen separate programmes of short films will be screened at the Filmhouse from Friday 24 until Sunday 26, while video installations and new video art work - more suited to an art gallery context than a cinema — are already on show at the Collective Gallery. The co- ordinators hope that by paying more attention to content rather than format, the screenings will not only fall into tight commercial packages,
they will have more to say as a group than as individual works.
‘in the end, a lot of filmmakers do have the same agenda,’ Lloyd reckons. ‘They are dealing with certain common issues even if they choose different mediums to express them in. We’ve tried very hard not to cram films into programmes, but to let the themes be suggested by the work. For instance, there’s a screening called “Made In Britain” which contains work by British filmmakers dealing with ideas of cultural and national identity. These are films made, generally, in late 1993 or 1994, so they talk about the media obsession with who we are, the business about Europe, devolution, independence. The work that has fallen into this category throws the whole subject wider and expands the issues. The question of identity is such a difficult one - to be British is very important to some people, but it’s starting to imply something multi-cultural now, and I think that’s what we’re trying to show. I want people to see these films are not just bizarre, experimental films with people being self-indulgent; they’re challenging and they are very topical.’ (Alan Morrison) flew Video Art is at the Collective Gallery until 4 March. ‘Edinburgh Shorts’ screen at the Filmhouse from Fri 24-Sun 26. See Listings and index for programme details.
The List 24 Feb-9 Mar 1995 19