This is my entry for “O” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “O” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Oklahoma City, Once in a Lifetime, and The Opposition.
Release Date: April 15, 2016
Director: Vanessa Gould
Production Company: Green Fuse Films
The documentary visits with the obituary desk at The New York Times, one of the last newspapers with a full-time obituary staff. Obituary writers and editors are interviewed over the course of one day as the work on finishing the obituary columns before the end of day deadline for the next day’s newspaper. Many decisions have to be made regarding obituaries that one may not consider. First, they have to determine whether a person is significant enough to receive an obituary. Then they must determine how many words will be written about the recently deceased individual. These things are debated in editorial meetings.
They also have to confirm details such as time and cause of death, which can be difficult when talking to grieving family members, some of whom are embarrassed to admit the cause of death. Deaths of noted persons late in the day can be a struggle since there’s less time to research and write about them, but the expectations are high that an obituary will be published if the person is particularly famous. Michael Jackson’s death at an early age is used as an example. The Times keeps a collection of several hundred “advances” where obituaries are written for people still alive, but are aging or in poor health, so that much of the obituary will be ready to go when needed. Humorously, an advance obituary was written for the aviator Elinor Smith in 1931 due to the danger of her job as a test pilot, but wouldn’t be needed until 2010 when she died at the age of 90.
My absolute favorite part of this movie is the morgue, where clippings and photographs are kept on various individuals and topics to be used as reference files. The quirky man who keeps the morgue talks about how it had a large staff in decades past but now he’s the only one who knows his way around. Despite the seemingly chaotic nature of the morgue, he is very insistent that it is well-organized and he can find anything needed in there. Watching this, I suddenly feel that working in a newspaper morgue is my calling.
What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:
The second line of an obituary always has the information of who confirmed the death, something that’s been done since an obituary ran for someone who had not actually died. The first obituary on the page is for the most significant individual and will be the only one that contains the word “dies” in the headline.
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:
Last year for the A to Z, I watched Life Itself, which was about Roger Ebert and focused on the film critic’s job at a newspaper. I think I may gradually work my way through documentaries about every section of a newspaper.
Source: Amazon Prime
019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:
- 2016: A journey through my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston.
- 2017: A spontaneous photograph each day.
- 2018: Watched and reviewed documentary movies.
And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:
- Book Reviews
- Movie Reviews
- Beer Reviews
- Music Reviews and Writing
- City Stories, expository writing about my experiences in various cities
And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.