Obit. (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

You don’t come across documentaries like this too often, nor do you come across a documentary that specifically deals with “obituaries”.  But Vanessa Gould’s documentary is fascinating, entertaining and a documentary worth watching

Images courtesy of © 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Obit.


DURATION: 96 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:78:1 Aspect Ratio), English 5.1 Surround, English with optional English SDH subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: August 1, 2017

Directed by Vanessa Gould

Produced by Caitlin Mae Burke, Vanessa Gould 

Co-Producer: Josh Wick

Executive Producer: Geralyn White Dreyfous

Co-Executive Producer: Diana Barrett, Ann Blinkhorn, Barbara Dobkin, Nion McEvoy, Anne Milliken, Katrina vanden Heuvel

Music by Joel Goodman

Cinematography by Ben Wolf

Edited by Kristin Bye


Bruce Weber

William McDonald

Margalit Fox

William Grimes

Jack Kadden

Douglas Martin

Jeff Roth

Daniel Slotnik

Paul Vitello

It’s a shame no one wants to talk to them at parties, because obituary writers are a surprisingly funny bunch. Ten hours before newspapers hit neighborhood doorsteps – and these days, ten minutes before news hits the web – an obit writer is racing against deadline to sum up a long and newsworthy life in under 1000 words. Obit. is the first documentary to explore the world of these writers and their subjects, focusing on the legendary team at The New York Times, who approach their daily work with journalistic rigor and narrative flair. Going beyond the byline and into the minds of those chronicling life after death on the freshly inked front lines of history, the film invites some of the most essential questions we ask ourselves about life, memory, and the inevitable passage of time. What do we choose to remember? What never dies?

From filmmaker Vanessa Gould comes a documentary that explores the worklife of an obituary writer and what best than to focus on the obituary writers of “The New York times”.

The first documentary to look into the world of those who write obituaries and because “The New York Times” is a paper read nationwide (and all over the world), the obituaries that cover prominent people is a job that involves a lot of research for the facts, figuring out which obituaries would be newsworthy, learning to keep oneself in check to not overindulge and also seeing how these journalists manage to do the job.

The inspiration to create this documentary was when Vanessa’s friend Eric Joisel, a French sculptor who was the focal point of her film “Between the Folds” died.  And when he died, she was called by New York Times Obituaries Senior Writer Margalit Fox.  And with the thorough questions that were asked by Fox, this made Gould think about the obituary writers of the New York Times.

And not long after, Gould approached the New York Times about creating a film about those behind-the-scenes writing the obituaries.

The film focuses on Obituaries Desk Editor William McDonald (former editor on NYT Metro, National and Cultural News desks and editor of three books of Times obits); Obituaries Senior Writer Margalit Fox (former staff editor, Book Reviews);  Obituaries writer William Grimes (former  book critic, restaurant critic and culture correspondent); former Deputy Obituaries Editor Jack Kadden (previously editor on the NYT Metro, National and Education desks); Assistant Obituaries Editor Peter Keepnews (former editor on Cultural News desk and Book Review); former Obituaries Writer Douglas Martin (worked at for 34-years as an energy correspondent and writer); Obituaries Photo Editor Dolores Morrison (Photo editor at the Obituaries and Metropolitan desks); Chief Pop Music Critic Jon Pareles (has worked for the Times since 1988); Jeff Roth (working the Times news morgue since 1993); Dan Slotnik (working the NYT Obituaries and Metropolitan desks since 2005); former obituaries writer Paul Vitello (previously a Metropolitan and Religion reporter for the Times and a columnist for “Newsday”);  former obituaries writer Bruce Weber (previously NYT theater critic and culture reporter)and Earl Wilson (Senior News Assistant).

We get to see how these writers prepare obituaries but also how they prepare obituaries in advance for prominent celebrities but also how they feel about their career as an obituary writer and if they think about their own mortality, since they write obituaries.


“Obit.” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:781 aspect ratio) and was shot in digital.  And like many documentaries, there are a lot of archived sources from various types of footage, especially during the discussion of celebrities or high-profile figures and more.  For the most part, the film looks very good and is well-edited.


“Obit.” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is primarily a dialogue-driven soundtrack which incorporates a musical score.  Dialogue and music are crystal clear.


“Obit.” comes with a theatrical trailer.

I think that anyone who has read an obituary, especially from a nationwide newspaper such as “The New York Times” has had questions of how a writer was able to obtain so much information on a deceased individual.

The Times was known for covering newsworthy subjects and there is a lot of detail on the deceased, especially their accomplishments in their career or life.

And part of the success of the New York Times is that their writers are people who have had years of experience writing for the newspaper, many who were previous editors for other departments, critics or was a reporter in some sort of fashion for the Times or other high profile newspaper publications.

Watching “Obit.”, it’s a very fascinating documentary because you get to see the perspectives of the writers, as public perception may think the job is morbid and depressing but Margalit Fox puts it into perspective that obits writeups are mostly about life and very little about death.

We learn of the great care that goes into writing obituaries but the work that goes into developing a story.

Having worked for a major newspaper corporation, I had the opportunity to see how one of our obituary writers went about her job but also to see the differences between larger to smaller newspapers.  But what these individuals have to do for the New York Times is much more intensive and they really take obituary writing to new level.  Just trying to establish contact with a family member or loved one and getting the information of prominent people in their respective industries on a daily basis, sounds quite daunting.

But these writers are up to the challenge and while there is a lot of work involved and there is something new each time they come to work each day about a deceased individual and needing to filter out what is real and what is over-exaggerated.  But also seeing their enthusiasm for the work that they do is pretty cool!

The documentary also goes into the deaths of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Meadowlark Lemon but also hearing from the obituary writers of their most memorable obits that they have worked on.

If anything, I just enjoyed of how Vanessa Gould was able to film the staff, get their personal thoughts and see them on the job, at a meeting and even sometimes having small debates with each other.  The camera is there recording but yet, the subjects of the film went on with their business as if the camera wasn’t there and it adds to the film’s efficacy.  Capturing these writers in their natural state but also allowing them to share whatever is on their mind.

May it come to death, the over-exaggeration of accomplishments by family’s or even questions of the lack of diversity of obits featured on “The New York Times”.

And last, what we see in this documentary is of a New York Times that was.  Not long after the film was release, the publication chose to focus on going digital and many writers and longtime staff were offered a buyout.  And so, a few of these longtime writers featured in the documentary are no longer employed with “The New York Times”.

The Blu-ray features very good picture quality and dialogue/music is crystal clear through the front channels.  There are no special features, so it’s a barebones Blu-ray release.

Overall, you don’t come across documentaries like this too often, nor do you come across a documentary that specifically deals with “obituaries”.  But Vanessa Gould’s documentary is fascinating, entertaining and a documentary worth watching!