Like its delightful predecessor Page One, Vanessa Gould’s documentary Obit. offers an exciting glimpse at what it’s like to work at the New York Times.
Zeroing in on the newspaper’s obituaries desk, the film enlightens viewers on a misunderstood department whose staffers are passionate about capturing the lives of the recently deceased — work that’s challenging but far from the morbidness many outsiders may assume.
Seemingly open books, reporters such as Bruce Weber, Margalit Fox and William Grimes — all engaging figures — allow Gould to pick their brains and look over their shoulders, even as the clock ticks down to their 4 p.m. deadline.
While they gather research, conduct interviews with the departed’s family members and hammer out the best article possible in the time allotted, the director hops to off-hour interviews with the journalists recounting feedback from readers, mistakes they hope never to repeat and several key obituaries, including those of David Foster Wallace and Michael Jackson.
Visits down to “the morgue” with eccentric archivist Jeff Roth are likewise amusing and insightful, especially his memories of the attempted assassination of then-president Ronald Reagan and how the obit staffers would have been caught unprepared (with a mountain of work before them) had he died.
In a pleasant but not entirely surprising turn, Obit. also overlaps with Page One in a few smile-inducing instances, briefly flashing on the Times’ remembrance of that film’s superstar, David Carr, and dropping in on a meeting to determine what stories will make the next day’s lead sheet.
Woven together into a brisk hour and a half feature, these various components unite to form a well-rounded understanding of the job and why it’s important — not quite turning its players into Carr-level idols, but certainly suggesting that they’re not mere macabre social outcasts.
Now, on to the advertising department!
Grade: A-minus. Not rated but with adult language and themes. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Ben Wolf/Kino Lorber)