A CERTAIN KIND OF DEATH
(directors/cinematographers/editors/producers: Grover Babcock/Blue Hadaegh; Runtime: 68; MPAA Rating: NR; New Box Media Inc; 2003)
“A strange documentary that visits the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A strange documentary that visits the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office and examines in great detail how the civil service investigative workers deal with death cases where there is no next of kin and the body goes unclaimed. There are about 500 unclaimed bodies a year. The film follows three corpses without a next of kin–all of ordinary people, Tommy Albertson, Ronald Tanner and Donald Wright. Tanner is a gay man whose probable cause of death is AIDS–through the coroner’s system, from site of death to tracing clues for relatives to the morgue to cremation and ultimately to auctioning of personal property.
First-time documentary filmmakers Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh have chosen a subject matter that has rarely been covered (No wonder!); it sets a grim mood as it covers in a clinical and depersonalized manner (nothing shocking or lurid here!) how the bureaucracy in a big city operates on such a mundane but real problem that might only arouse the interest of “a certain kind of viewer.” It offers no surprising revelations, but it fills in all the blank spots you might have had about how such a process works.
It’s informative to a fault, and acts more than anything else as a paean to the workers who chose to work under such dreary conditions and manage to be true professionals. It’s also reassuring to the public to know that if they or someone they know dies without anyone reporting it until their decaying body smells come seeping through the door, there are pros around who will do all they can through the system to locate their next of kin and eventually get them a proper burial if they can’t find a next of kin. If you ever really wanted such a detailed look at how the coroner’s office works, this is your Citizen Kane. For the others less interested in such morbid things, this will be either a curio film whose unique subject matter knocks your socks off; or, if you are like me–you will find no fault with the film-making but just can’t get off on the subject matter.
A Certain Kind of Death was given a special jury award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.
REVIEWED ON 1/18/2005 GRADE: B- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/