Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fictional obit writers on film and in print

In the movie, "Closer," actor Jude Law portrays an obituary writer for a London newspaper. I was infuriated when his character told Natalie Portman's that obit writing is the Siberia of journalism.

I laughed at the opening scene of "Perfect" in which John Travolta is a fledgling reporter and reluctant obit writer. I got a kick out of his phone interview with a bereaved relative, as he asked for the name of the funeral home, the deceased's age and the cause of death. When he begged his editor to get him off obit duty and got his wish, I lost interest in the film.

Both Jeremy Piven in "Serendipity" and Jennifer Aniston in "Rumor Has It" are described as obit writers for the New York Times. Piven's character is shown as a reporter who writes obits, but I believe Aniston's character would actually be a person who takes obit info from funeral homes and families for the classified advertising department - basically, a clerk-typist, not a journalist.

Fictional obit writers usually are portrayed in movies (and in books, like Carl Hiaasen's "Basket Case" and Porter Shreve's "The Obituary Writer") as unfortunate souls who are stuck with the dirtiest job in the newsroom. The writers of these screenplays and books are using the term "obit writer" as a synonym for "loser." To them, the obit writer represents as person who is in a dead-end job, who yearns for some higher calling, who is ready for a change.

For some reporters, this may be true. To the public, this is probably the perception. But it's not always the case. Many of us regard our jobs as the best in the newsroom.

We love writing about the dead. We're not writing about death. We're writing about lives. (FYI: Many of us, who love what we do, will attend the 8th Great Obituary Writers Conference in Las Vegas, N.M., June 15-17. For details go to

What other movies, books, TV shows or whatever include obit-writing characters? How were they portrayed? What did you think about them?

1 comment:

GT Regan said...

I seem to remember a film, Water Walk, based on a book by Stephen Faulkner, in which the father of the family has just returned from winning an award for obit writing only to hear his job has been eliminated. I cannot find this part in the book, but i would like to get confirmation that it was in the film