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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Movie 'Obit,' a must for political junkies

Jeff Roth in Obit/Green Fuse Films, Inc.
Dear Junkies,

You'll love it.

As everyone knows (or, at least, the dwindling number who read newspapers), "obit" is short for "obituary," a place formerly reserved for neophytes at newspapers of yesteryear but, as portrayed in this clever documentary of the same title, a place where senior newspapermen go to produce their craft, turn out their stories, and capture the lives of notables in generally 800 words or less.

A handful of white male writers (okay, there is one white female writer) describe
individually "A Day in the Life of an Obituary Writer at the New York Times," how their subjects are chosen, how they find out details about the deceased, and how they put it all together before deadline.

They discuss reasons for choosing particular subjects. (Does the word "died" have to appear near the top of the story if the word is in the headline?)

They search the Times' morgue where 30 employees used to work, and now, there is one. (Sigh: technology.)

What was surprising in this era of "fact checking" was the lack of fact checking (unless I missed it, but Sheila says I didn't) by the writers who probe families for information about the deceased. They just accept everything that's handed off as the truth?

One writer says he presumed a dead man was a Democratic congressman from Illinois since the family was Democratic, however, the writer's presumption was wrong, which he learned the next day when the obit ran and he received a email notice of error. Which means a correction in the paper.

Also, I presumed that advances were prepared for all notables, but how could that possibly happen when there are so many?

They come and go, and what exactly defines a "notable"? (A Wikipedia writer I met a few months ago at Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's talk at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told me Wikipedia's writers and researchers frequently wrestle with this topic: Who are the notables? And where did they go?)

Anyway, I believe the NYT department head said they had about 1,500 advances done, with the oldest from 1931 and the person is still living! (Kirk Douglas? He's only 101.)

Advancing age and known illnesses (an editor picked up on an imminent death by a trailer running along the bottom of the television screen) mean an advance may be prepared, but the department is often surprised by "untimely" deaths, like Michael Jackson's and Prince's.

Moviegoers who are not political/news junkies will probably find Obit a bit dull, and even for a junkie like me, it dragged.

Nevertheless, it is a fascinating look inside the "old gray lady" whose large coterie of obit writers strike an outsider as chiefly down-to-earth types looking to write the best about life. 

An obit is not a story about death:  It's a celebration of life.

A film not to miss!

Congratulations to the female director, Vanessa Gould!

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