A Special Screening – A Balinese Cremation Ceremony – 1932

February 15, 2013
Category : Local Customs

Bali Artworks has been given special permission by Travel Film Archive to present the attached video for your enjoyment.  Filmed over 80 years ago, this travelogue is a fascinating record of a Balinese cremation ceremony in the 1930′s. As such, it is of historical significance for today’s Balinese people.

There have been some changes to the ritual since this film was made,  just a few examples of which are:-

  • Not as many large offerings are carried in today’s processions and there are no longer any river-crossings to a cemetery;
  • The cremation in the film is not that of a high caste person however, the holder for the body is a bull.  Today, the bull is only used in cremations for royalty or priests;
  • We would never expect to see people clambouring over the bamboo platforms. These days, once the body has been put on the platform and the procession is underway, only a family member or a priest would be allowed to stand beside it and be carried to the cemetery.

The film was made in 1932 by an adventurous pair of American men – Burton Holmes and his cameraman, Andre de la Varre.    Burton Holmes was a traveler extraordinaire and the first man to use film to document his travels when he lectured.  He coined the word “travelogue” for these films.  He lived in an era where exotic places could be read about but were rarely seen by most people so there was a huge demand by the public to attend his lectures and see his films.

Andre de la Varre and Burton Holmes were extremely busy in 1932.  Apart from coming to Bali to film, they traveled the breadth of Indonesia, to Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Ceylon, Egypt, France and Austria!  Their partnership continued until 1935 and the attached film was released by de la Varre in 1936 after the pair had gone their separate creative ways for a few years.

Patrick Montgomery of Travel Film Archive mentions that this film has not actually been restored but was transferred from an original nitrate 35mm print to video.  We are extremely honoured to be given the opportunity to share this important video with you.

The Burton Holmes website is really worth a look.  It gives wonderful detail about the life of this fascinating man who actually has a star on Hollywood Boulevard. Andre de la Varre had his own famous moment when his short film “Grandad of Races” won an Academy Award in 1950.  To see more of their films, go to Travel Film Archive where the Holmes/de la Varre travelogues have now become records of our world’s recent history.

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