Those that enjoyed Andrew Rossi’s PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES will find much to like about OBIT, and for similar reasons: It provides an entrée into the day-to-day operations of the venerable publication and an excuse to relive some of the Times’ greatest hits.
Vanessa Gould’s smart, fast-paced documentary is a vivid but never ostentatious flipbook through the job’s glories and trials: regular access to the Times’ morgue for fraying, unpublicized records; scandalous factual mistakes; zero-hour assignments on prematurely departed giants (Michael Jackson, for one). It will kill the longstanding notion that these wry researchers and history buffs are morbid bores.
Gould has made one of the few great films I’ve seen about writing. Sly and sprightly, Obit brings a visual energy to the act of white-collar workers typing on keyboards. She smartly sets the film within a single day. As such, the print deadlines and pitch sessions build tension as we follow the arc of an obit from “Who’s dead?” in the morning to the final product in the next day’s paper. We trace each step of the process in rigorous, satisfying detail.