Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Obit: Life on Deadline (2016) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

It may sound a bit odd, but I've always enjoyed reading obituaries. I like the way an obituary celebrates a life, encapsulating someone's impact on both personal acquaintances and the wider world. The "passing parade" is endlessly varied and interesting.

All this is captured well in the documentary OBIT: LIFE ON DEADLINE (2016), which will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber on August 1st.

OBIT, which was directed by Vanessa Gould, tells the story of New York Times obituary writers. We follow some of the writers and editors through the obituary writing and editing process, interwoven with interviews with obituary writers about their experiences and philosophies about the job.

It's pointed out that while "beat" writers have regular sources they can rely on, obituary writers never have that luxury, as their subject matter is constantly changing. Within a matter of hours they must be knowledgeable enough to write a story about someone who could be from the world of politics, entertainment, science, business, or any number of other areas.

I noticed that all of the obituary writers featured were older, which is commented on in the documentary. It's mentioned that they perhaps have greater perspective for the job, including not just a knowledgeable sense of history, but having been through losing loved ones themselves.

There's so much discussion about having to write for deadlines that I started wondering about advance obituaries, which are finally addressed in the last section of the film. The NYT has a library of over 1700 advance obituaries ready to be updated and used at a moment's notice.

The oldest "advance" that was ever used was nearly 80 years old. It had been written about Elinor Smith, who as a young girl was a pilot, so it was assumed she might crash and die young! When it was finally pulled out and used, she was 98.

Some of the other stories told were so interesting I went to Google to learn more; for instance, how about the life of Irving Cohen, the "King Cupid of the Catskills"?

The film includes some fascinating visits to the newspaper's morgue, where just one person manages endless cabinets of old clippings and non-digital "advance" obituaries, including the one written in the '30s for Elinor Smith. In this high-tech world, it's a messy, decidedly old-fashioned blast from the past.

Speaking of the past, it's also mentioned that at some point in the not-too-distant future, deciding whether someone's obituary will be "above the fold" will die out with print newspapers. In a way, OBIT is also a bit of an obituary for the dying, or at least changing, newspaper business.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the trailer. The documentary runs 93 minutes.

Recommended viewing.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Evelynrocks said...

Fascinating; as someone who works in the newspaper business i've always been intrigued with the obituaries we publish and 'enjoy' reading the ones which share some of the deceased lifestory, including those who are not considered famous or newsworthy. The family ones can be quite compelling and intriguing, and as we see the last of the WW2 heroes pass, i find myself scanning the local paper or papers i come across to see if there are any veterans' stories being told.
It's funny how in the old movies or tv shows, the obituary department seemed to be where a rough reporter was sentenced to hone his/her craft or serve as detention. I'd have thought it was the same today. Thanks for reviewing this!

12:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the review, Kristen, and hope you'll get to catch the documentary.

The documentary does say that decades ago, obits could be a kind of exile for people the paper wanted to ease out the door but not fire.

Like you, I find the life stories interesting. The LA Times has a lengthy obit section on Sundays, including obits placed by families, which I usually read through. As you say, some of the stories can be quite compelling.

Best wishes,

7:55 PM  
Blogger mel said...

This documentary has not been, and is not scheduled to be shown in my country, so I didn't know of its existence, and I am thankful that you have reviewed and recommended it, Laura.

The subject matter has long been of great interest to me, and I'm looking forward to receiving a copy soon from the US.

By the way, I loved the story of the "plumba chicken". Thanks!

6:11 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted I could let you know about OBIT, Mel! I felt the subject matter would be of interest to many of my readers and am glad to know from you that is the case. I'd love to know what you think of it.

Wasn't the Cohen obit I linked terrific?

Best wishes,

9:43 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Nice review Laura. I recently watched and reviewed this doc. I really enjoyed it and loved learning about all the work that goes into obits and some interesting facts about what influences how they are written. Fascinating!

I was particularly interested in the story of Elinor Smith the stunt aviator and looked her up after I saw the doc.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Raquel, and thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the documentary as much as I did. I just enjoyed reading your review, which my readers can check out here. Wasn't the Elinor Smith story interesting?

Best wishes,

12:27 PM  

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