Great cemeteries, like The Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn feel like worlds unto themselves. A kind of theme park of the departed, everyday life is left behind at the gate. There is a certain mood that overtakes one while visiting. The vastness of Green-Wood is such that in three days of shooting there I still got lost in the labyrinth of wistfully winding roads and paths. Home to approximately 600,000 former (or permanent) New Yorkers, you are simultaneously overwhelmed by the sense of being surrounded by the dead and seduced by the beauty of the place. It creates a special flavor of melancholy, the inevitable feels present, and one's own life feels all the more fleeting as in Memento Mori, "Remember that you are mortal".
It was my intention to try and capture that special cemetery mood with this film in the form and spirit of a Danse Macabre. Shay Lynch composed the haunting score in this spirit. I wanted my cast to consist exclusively of the memorial statuary. The over the top quality of these realistic representations of grief and faith ultimately seduced me into making this Halloween valentine to them.
Founded in 1838, Green-Wood has a decidedly Victorian feel to it. It was a very popular tourist attraction in the 19th Century, and the miracle of the place is how perfectly it seems to have survived. Where ever you turn you are confronted by bigger than life Angels, huge pillars topped with stone carved urns or orbs representing departed souls, and countless carved headstones and elaborate mausoleums (many bigger than apartments I've lived in). Confronted by so many lives that have been lived, speaking to you in memorial marble and granite, the sense of history and time travel is overwhelming. It is a stunningly beautiful oasis of timeless green and Victorian dreams of eternity in the heart of Brooklyn. Only the passing planes remind you which century you're in.
Green-Wood is still a visitor friendly cemetery. They provide free maps (you'll need them) and walking tour books (not free). Photography is permitted but video requires special permission. They have regularly scheduled events including guided tours and even some special Halloween events. Check the website for a schedule. It's a great way to spend a day. Also, be sure to view the aerial footage of the cemetery on their website.
This film originally appeared in my NYTIMES blog, The Animated Life in 2008
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