Patrick Creadon's documentary Wordplay (2005) looked at Will Shortz, creator of the New York Times crossword puzzle, and Andrew Rossi's Page One (2011) focused on reporter David Carr and the paper's media desk; now director Vanessa Gould introduces viewers to Times obituaries editor William McDonald and the handful of writers responsible for summarizing some of the greatest lives ever lived. As reporter Bruce Weber explains, the criterion for inclusion is impact, which is how Leonid Brezhnev might share column space with the inventor of the Slinky, but as the rest of the documentary shows, arriving at a precise statement of that impact can be the hardest part of the job (especially on deadline). Gould secures plenty of nuts-and-bolts detail about the reporting and writing process, which can range from novelistic use of detail to the prosaic but no less critical matter of confirming the death itself. There's also a fascinating tour of the paper's morgue, a vast treasure trove of obscure photographs, articles, and other ephemera that even its owners can no longer fully grasp.
Director: Vanessa Gould
Producer: Pamela Boll, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Caitlin Burke and Vanessa Gould