The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, a post-mortem Tinseltown institution over the last 123 years, has been the final resting place for many luminaries, including icons from the film industry’s Golden Era up until now. Certainly, it’s not just any cemetery; it’s an attraction where the dead are not only acknowledged, they are undoubtedly honored.
Conceived and implemented by Celine Mares, Daisy Marquez, and Tyler Cassity, the Day of the Dead celebration — inclusive of both Día de los Muertos and Noche de los Muertos — takes the concept of memorialization a step further, rooting itself in cultural and colorfully festive components. Even better, the visual cornucopia these events entail — such as the myriad of traditional dances, altars, and musical performances — naturally coincides with Halloween on the calendar. It’s a two-for-one chance to be both expressionistic and honorific.
For the dual celebrations on Saturday, October 29th, marking their 23rd installment at Hollywood Forever, the Día de los Muertos event entertained and educated children, but it was at the Noche de los Muertos soirée when the festivities culminated. From 5 pm to midnight, the mixture of dusk and esteemed creatures of the night lent itself to a thrilling sensory experience where the goal wasn’t to be jump-scared into oblivion but to appreciate lavishly ornate costumes (a costume contest awarded the first-prize winner $1000) and callbacks to the Aztecs and other staples within Mexico’s history. The thousands upon thousands in attendance at the sold-out Noche de los Muertos experienced how antiquity and the contemporary age of today intertwine in a poetic rapture that emphasizes one’s roots, values, and family.
Scattered among the Hollywood Forever grounds were face-painting stations and towering, papier-mâché skeletal figurines overlooking the attendees who passed through the paved areas, most of them lined with vendors which sold fruity beverages (aguas frescas), popcorn, churros, and an assortment of suitable culinary items like tamales and tacos. Some of the more notable vendors included Estrella Jalisco, and especially Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which had its very own enclosure replete with a photo op and a spinning prize wheel.
As varied as the food and beverage options were, the main reason for attendance, as has been in the years prior, were the grandly visual and aural stimuli. Besides being able to appreciate the lengths many went through to dress up with ornamented outfits, there were more than 80 altars, or ofrendas, on display which honored loved ones who passed (altar contest winners were also chosen). Framed pictures of beloved family members were arrayed around breathtaking flower arrangements, festooned doilies, lights, incense, and offerings of sustenance. The altars were also distinguishable by theme, making each one a must-see attraction. For instance, one altar was shaped like a castle, another a multilayered cake, one was elaborately decorated with sports players and personnel, and one even had a classic car as the centerpiece. Visitors made several walking rounds to ensure each altar was properly absorbed for its uniquely memorable beauty in paying homage to those taken by death with such vibrant life.
While some isolated performances along the grounds could be admired, most musical and dance acts took place on three stages: the main, or the Muerte y Tradición stage, the El Fandango en su Esplendor stage, and the Azteca stage. The first was by far the largest, with an overarching proscenium and video screen. Suffice it to say, it attracted the biggest hordes of enthusiasts, pulled in by bands who specialized in rhythmic percussion like Son Rompe Pera, solo artists like Ed Maverick who simultaneously strummed and sang with intense emotion, and even more orthodox presentations like a narrative musical piece that described the fertility of Mayahuel, an ancient Mexican female deity.
The Esplendor Stage represented the lighter side of Mexican showmanship, highlighting, among other forms of artistic expression, the folk dancing of Ballet Eterna Juventud, who moved gracefully in their pleated dresses, and the effortless instrumentation and harmonization by veteran group Alebrijes en Vuelo. The Azteca stage, nestled near the only pond at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, saluted Aztec warriors via dancers who wore majestic ceremonial headdresses and synchronously moved to the resounding beating of drums behind them.
As midnight struck and the momentous evening concluded, the 23rd year of Noche de los Muertos proved to be not just a sensory bonanza of eye-catching and emotively melodic experiences, it was a return to tradition for those of Mexican descent and an opportunity for non-Mexicans to become more culturally competent. Not to mention, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery was again the quintessential setting where the Day of the Dead could be sumptuously observed amid awe-striking grave sites, monuments, and mausoleums.
For more information about the 23rd installment of the Day of the Dead festivities, including the history of both the Día de los Muertos and Noche de los Muertos events at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, please visit: LADayoftheDead.com