We’re all going to die, and while most of our expirations will probably be acknowledged in print somewhere, very few of us will have lived lives meritorious enough to make it into The New York Times’ Obituary column. Vanessa Gould’s highly entertaining documentary Obit introduces us to the team responsible for writing obituaries that capture the spirit of the deceased without merely reciting facts, and all in just a few hours. (I had the honor of eulogizing Alan Rickman and Leonard Nimoy for the Village Voice, and it’s a deadline pressure like no other.)
Who’s worthy of a Times obit is always a question; some are obvious, like David Bowie, and some less so, like Bill Haley’s bassist. It’s all quite the minefield, including the trap of unverified family myth — grandfather was a bootlegger and grandmother was a flapper! — and the danger of including too many facts, since every one of them is an opportunity to make a mistake. Featuring some of the most titillating research porn since The Witness — which took a far dimmer view of the Times’ fact-checking prowess — Obit’s stealth hero is Jeff Roth, keeper of the Times’ archive of clippings and photographs. It’s appropriately called “the morgue,” and a movie consisting only of Roth going through the drawers would be no less fascinating.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.