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A Certain Kind Of Death (2003)

DVD Cover (Wellspring Media)
Biography (Non-Fiction), Culture & Society, Sociology
Grover Babcock Grover Babcock
Blue Hadaegh Blue Hadaegh
Fred Corral Fred Corral
Sherwood Dixon Sherwood Dixon

7.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: December 19, 2006
What happens to us when we die? I don't mean in an afterlife or religious sense; I mean, literally, what happens to our bodies, our bank accounts, and all of our earthly belongings? For most of us, our family will handle all of that: our loot will be spread out through the family or perhaps donated to charity, while our carcass will wind up in a nice cemetery with a modest tombstone. However, what happens to those unfortunate souls who don't have any surviving friends or family? That's the question that this documentary answers, and said answer is pretty disturbing.

Directors Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh present the material in a very straightforward fashion. Unlike other documentaries that constantly display facts, numbers, and statistics while breezing through the actual material, A Certain Kind of Death is content to merely show us what happens when a body is found and how the government officials attempt to figure out their identity. This style of presentation wouldn't work in most other documentaries, but it works out wonderfully here due to the material at hand.

We go through the entire process - starting from the discovery of the body - for three John Doe's throughout the hour-long running time. I won't go into detail on each one, but I will describe one in particular to give you an idea of how the process works. It begins when a naked and rotting body is found by an apartment owner: yes, we see all of this real footage in graphic detail, so squeamish viewers will definitely want to turn away. As the officials go through his belongings and find out details about his life, they discover that his name was Ronald Tanner and his story then starts to unfold for both the investigators and us watching at home. Tanner had already purchased a burial plot, but as we soon find out, he buried his male friend there a few years before he himself died. Why? After a bit more digging, we find out that this "friend" was actually his lover who had died of AIDS, and as the pieces start to fall in place, we get an idea of how he spent his last couple of years on earth. Thanks to the investigative skills of those working the case, this man went from being a nameless corpse laying in a pool of his own blood and feces to a proud gay man who could be properly buried alongside his family. Ronald's story may have had a happy ending (well, as happy as it can get being that he died), but that's not the case for the other two gentlemen who officials couldn't find any information on.

What makes this documentary so powerful is the fact that it shows everything there is to see and does it without any sort of agenda. Unlike other documentaries where it's readily apparent that the filmmakers were biased towards one side or the other and only show the facts that support their own personal causes, there's obviously no sides to be taken here; as a result, we get the truth and nothing but the truth. It's done in a very straightforward fashion with no musical score and no real attempts to get the viewer emotional about the things we're seeing: again, it's just the facts that are presented here. We're there when the body is discovered, we listen to the officials explain what steps they're going to take in an effort to track down any surviving family members, and we then watch what happens to those who turned out to be truly alone in this world. We see what happens to their belongings and their body (there's no proper burial involved, I'll say that much), and although this isn't a very uplifting documentary, it does answer all of the questions that you may have concerning the process.

It's definitely an interesting and informative documentary, and while it's certainly not for everyone due to the graphic material and the subject matter, it's worth a viewing for those of you interested in this sort of thing. I enjoyed every minute of it, and the directors did a damned fine job of answering all of the questions that the viewer may have about this process. 8/10.
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