In 10 Words or Less
Discovering the fate of the unmourned
I've never seen a documentary like this, and that's because they don't normally make documentaries like this. Instead of using music, slick editing or interviews, the directors aimed the camera and shot. Because of that, the resulting film is more real and has more impact than most of this genre's representatives.
If a person dies, and no relatives can be found to claim the body, that person's world becomes property of the local officials. That means everything that person owns is controlled by a series of bureaucrats who handle hundreds of similar cases. That person's assets are sold off and his savings are claimed, in order to pay for their body's burial. Of course, that's assuming the person has anything to sell. If he didn't have anything, the end would be much different.
A Certain Kind of Death follows three such cases, each slightly different than the other. From the discovery of the body to the disposal, these lives are brought to an end, and the camera watches the whole thing. Through a choice of shot location, the camera is either deep into the story or standing apart, keeping a detached eye on what's happening.
The thing that stands out for anyone who has watched a few documentaries is the technique. When you expect a cut to a sit-down interview to get more insight, it doesn't happen. When music should be affecting the mood, it's silent. Instead of a constant flow of imagery, there are blackouts. It's this foreign feel that helps put the viewer off balance and prevents them from settling into the movie. Death is a jarring event, and the movie reproduces that feel well.
Though the film is about death, the actual subject is the very buttoned-down procedures that surround the end of a loner's life. While "C.S.I." deals with the exciting mysteries of dying, A.C.K.O.D. looks at the mundane aspects, and in doing so, makes them just as interesting as the TV drama.
Packaged in a standard keepcase is one DVD. Considering that the film is rather short, clocking in at 70 minutes, that's all it needed. The anamorphic widescreen main menu, based on the cover art, is animated, with options to watch the movie, select scenes and view the special features. There are no set-up options, and no subtitles or closed captions. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene.
The anamorphic, widescreen video footage, encoded at a average of 7.5Mbps, is as good as it could be, since it is video. Lighter portions of the image are washed-out in daylight scenes and there's some jitter obvious, but for the most part, it looks good. Softness and grain are evident as well, while the video can be dark, due to the surroundings it was shot in.
The audio, a simple Dolby 2.0 presentation, is very good as well, picking up small audio details like machinery humming that the silences in this film reveal. There's no score or soundtrack music, so it's a dialogue-only affair, and that dialogue and the ambient sounds around it are reproduced clearly.
A group of five deleted scenes are included, mostly extended or alternate takes, including a full scene showing exactly how one of the more disturbing scenes in the film occurs. Some of what's in these scenes was covered in other parts of the movie, which explains why it was cut. In all, it's about 14 minutes of additional footage that fills out the stories in the feature.
A set of text screens with answers to frequently asked questions about the film takes the role of an audio commentary, providing background info about the production. Based on the way they are written, it seems like they come from the film's directors, and they are rather informative.
Also included are five trailers from Wellspring Video, including Tarnation, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, Seducing Dr. Lewis, Strayed and Anything but Love, but not for this film. There's also a weblink page available through a DVD-ROM drive, that takes you to the film's site, as well as the DVD producers.
The Bottom Line
A Certain Kind of Death is simply fascinating. Utilizing a very utilitarian style of documentary filmmaking, the creators allow the story of what happens when you die without anyone around who cares, to unfold naturally before the camera, giving it power that a slicker production might not have provided. The stark presentation hammers home exactly how empty death can be. The DVD package isn't heavy in quantity, though what is there is interesting. It's unlikely that anyone will watch this film more than once, but at least one viewing is recommended to everyone.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.