by Alan Yudman
Everyone reads the obits in the newspaper when someone famous dies. Even if the person isn’t famous but contributed to society in some meaningful way, an obit can be interesting or enlightening. But who writes them? in OBIT. the filmmakers look at one of the writers for one of the last remaining obituary departments in the country. Of course it’s at the New York Times.
These men and women aren’t ghouls or obsessed with death. They are great writers who enjoy telling interesting stories. Director Venessa Gould gives us a look inside through interviews with the writers. They are former culture or entertainment critics who have moved to this new job. They take their jobs very seriously, but also have a sense of humor about what they do. They feel its important and are trying to keep their corner of the business alive.
The film is very interesting. You learn how they put the obits together and what the standards are. Who gets one and who doesn’t. How they find a way into certain lives that may make someone relatively obscure interesting to the masses.
Throughout the film the writers are working on various obits. You see the creative process unfold. It sounds like it may be deadly (pun intended) dull, but it’s interesting because these writers are fascinating people. But my favorite person in the film is the man who runs the Times’ Archive. The library of old clips and photos the writers and editors use as source material. He is kind of nerdy in a “lives in his parents basement” kind of way, but he also knows where all the bodies are buried. Literally. He is a true character.
OBIT. give us insight into a part of the paper that is largely ignored and rarely thought about. The best compliment I can give is that it made me want to run to the Times’ Obit page and read about who died.