Charles & Ray Eames’ Short Film on the Mexican Day of the Dead (1957)

As much fun as Amer­i­cans have on Hal­loween, we could learn a thing or two from the Mex­i­cans. Their Día de los Muer­tos, the cel­e­bra­tion of which spans Octo­ber 31 to Novem­ber 2, gets more elab­o­rate, more seri­ous, and some­how more jovial at the same time. The robust Mex­i­can cul­ture of Los Ange­les, where I live, assures us a range of Día de los Muer­tos fes­tiv­i­ties each and every year, most impres­sive­ly the well-known cross-cul­tur­al blow-out at the Hol­ly­wood For­ev­er Ceme­tery. But I passed my most mem­o­rable Día de los Muer­tos on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional Autóno­ma de Méx­i­co where, the year I went, they’d put togeth­er an entire field of shrines to the dead, nor­mal enough for the hol­i­day, but that time around they’d decid­ed to theme them all after Jorge Luis Borges sto­ries. (An Argen­tine, yes, but this has become a Latin Amer­i­can hol­i­day.) Every so often, the pow­er went out — Mex­i­co City, remem­ber — plung­ing the thou­sands of us there amid the hun­dreds of rep­re­sen­ta­tions of  “The Aleph,” “Funes the Mem­o­ri­ous,” and, appro­pri­ate­ly, “The Gar­den of Fork­ing Paths,” into peri­od­ic dark­ness.

As much as I would rec­om­mend such an expe­ri­ence, maybe you would­n’t want to make it your intro­duc­tion to the Mex­i­can Day of the Dead. Maybe you’d pre­fer this short film from famed design­ers (and, per­haps not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Ange­lenos) Charles and Ray Eames, a film that paints a por­trait of Día de los Muer­tos through its icons and arti­facts just as their acclaimed Pow­ers of Ten paint­ed a por­trait of Earth at every scale. “In Mex­i­co,” explains its nar­ra­tor, “an inti­mate accep­tance of death extends far back into pre-His­pan­ic times. In the Aztec cul­ture which pre­ced­ed the com­ing of the Spaniards, death shows itself again and again — a famil­iar image. These ancient things of this land were joined over the cen­turies with the Span­ish cel­e­bra­tion of All Souls. Togeth­er they form a uni­ver­sal fes­ti­val of many facets and many dimen­sions — the Day of the Dead.” Through its cem­pasú­chitl flow­ers, its sug­ar skulls, and, yes, its angel-guid­ing rock­ets, The Day of the Dead exam­ines just what this end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing hol­i­day has, over the cen­turies, come to mean.

The Day of the Dead  (1957) will be added to our big col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down to the Bone: A Clay­ma­tion for The Day of the Dead

Design­ers Charles & Ray Eames Cre­ate a Pro­mo­tion­al Film for the Ground­break­ing Polaroid SX-70 Instant Cam­era (1972)

Charles & Ray Eames’ Icon­ic Film Pow­ers of Ten (1977) and the Less­er-Known Pro­to­type from 1968

Charles and Ray Eames’ Pow­ers of Ten: The Clas­sic Film Re-Imag­ined By 40 Artists

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (4)
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  • amber wasco says:

    Thank you so very much. My first Alter is up. In hon­or of my Fsmi­ly. I love this tra­di­tion. I wish we c old all embrace our death. It would be so much eas­i­er on the ones left behind. Again sese­cer­ly Thank You Mucho Gra­cias.

  • myrna miller says:

    Beau­ti­ful film. Brought me back to the love­ly group trip I took to Oax­a­ca for the day of the dead cel­e­bra­tion many years ago.
    We arrived many days before Nov.1 so got to watch all the prepa­ra­tions for the cel­e­bra­tion. What impressed me most were the sand sculp­tures in front of the beau­ti­ful church on the square. The sculp­tures were huge and col­or­ful and amaz­ing, and all craft­ed from a pile of dirt and sand. I also loved the ceme­tery where the night of Nov.1 peo­ple spend all night sit­ting next to their fam­i­lies grave and most graves are dec­o­rat­ed with sym­bols of what that per­son did or who that per­son was in their life. Most of the graves tell lit­tle sto­ries about the deceased. Again, very col­or­ful and respect­ful and so hap­py to have known that per­son. Very uplift­ing and soul­ful. I loved it. Myself, i don’t care for the way we do Hal­loween . It’s my least favorite hol­i­day and seems to lack any soul at all.

  • Lourdes Fuentes Tesorero says:

    Won­der­ful film! Thanks for remem­ber me. Mex­i­co is mag­ic!

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