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A Certain Kind of Death
A Certain Kind of Death
Directors: Blue Hadaegh, Grover Babcock
Genres: Documentary
NR     2005     1hr 9min

An unblinking and unsettling look at a mysterious process that goes on all around us: what happens to people who die with no next of kin? DVD extras include: Director Commentary, Extra Footage, Interviews.


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Movie Details

Directors: Blue Hadaegh, Grover Babcock
Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: Documentary
Studio: Winstar
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 03/22/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 9min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Beautiful and Provocative - A Truly Unique Film
Rana-Scope | New York City | 03/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This film took me completely by surprise - I saw it at a festival, and I've been waiting for the DVD for over a year.

Disturbing, graceful, and deep.

The movie follows the LA Coroners when they find people who've died without family.

What might seem gross is actually fascinating: It's a complex, unexpected and sometimes heartbreaking process. So that I don't give it away, let's just say that the city takes care of everything, down to the last detail.

But the film is much more than just what happens.

The filmmakers find a raw beauty in the most disturbing images. More than anything, watching the fate of people who have no one makes you reflect on your own life.

Be prepared for images you will never forget."
Morbid Grace
Mr. Aditya B. Surti | 10/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This `depressing yet graceful and informative' documentary focuses on an extremely unique and untouched subject matter - What happens to the body of a person who dies without any kin alive? What does the State do when it learns that there is nobody to claim the body of the decedent or his assets and how does it manage to dispose off the body and belongings of a person so strange and acknowledged by nobody. The documentary does a good job at educating the audience with the foreseeability of a myriad of possibilities of what could happen to the human body after death; no matter how abominating and unacceptable such possibilities appear. This would caution an easy going carefree person to take certain vital steps during his lifetime to ensure a certain specific treatment to his body and estate after his death. The documentary reveals the interesting management of the bodies of three decedents until the State finally dutifully cremates or buries such unclaimed bodies, and the administration and disposition of the decedents' estates when they leave everything without a will or a kin alive. On a final note - Some of the graphic images of the dead bodies may be disturbing yet tolerable and acceptable."
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 07/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"A Certain Kind of Death (Grover Babock and Blue Hadaegh, 2003)

What happens to those who die without family to claim them-- transients, homeless, those who live alone without family? Babcock and Hadaegh show us in A Certain Kind of Death, and the answer is relentlessly depressing, if fascinating.

The filmmakers follow a few days in the life of various government departments as the body of transient is dealt with-- the attempt to track down any surviving family, the cremation, the disposition of the man's effects. All is handled in a cold, clinical manner, with some of those involved keeping themselves sane in any way they know how.

The sheer mudanity of the situation provides, paradoxically, all the drama this unassuming little documentary needs to keep the viewer watching. The dead man is handled like just another case, one of hundreds-- which, of course, is exactly what he is to a coroner's office in a large city. The film wends to its inevitable conclusion, no surprising twists, no family suddenly popping out of the woodwork, just an old man, dead, no longer a part of society, slowly disappearing from the memories of everyone on the planet-- except that this one won't. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as applied to film; when you observe something, it changes the dynamic. And here is the film's great irony; that this particular transient, by dint of being the subject of this documentary, is not likely to be forgotten.

None of the usual adjectives seems to apply here. You can't call the film lovely, of course. If anything, it is its own particular breed of ugliness. And yet, of course, you'll keep watching it. This is a film you should see, not for its entertainment value, but because it shows you something about the world we live in that you don't know about, perhaps never thought to ask. It is knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and there's far too little of that in the film industry these days. *** ½"
Excellent doc in the Errol Morris vein
Cosmoetica | New York, USA | 09/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Where would contemporary documentaries be without the Michael Moore style of self-promotional agitprop, or without PBS's Burns Brothers' solemnly historical talking heads and recitations form of docudrama? Well, back to straightforward journalistic techniques, of the sort employed in the outstanding 70 minute long 2003 documentary from directors Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh, A Certain Kind Of Death. And no, this is not the exploitative pseudo-documentary style that was pioneered in camp classics like Faces Of Death nor Mondo Cane. Instead, the directors hew to the early style of Errol Morris, albeit even more starkly. Their technique- of emotional distancing, by having employees of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office simply tell how they do their jobs when dealing with kinless decedents, rather than telling how they feel, gives the audience an unbiased `in' to the rather rote way municipalities deal with the hundreds of annual unclaimed dead- what used to be referred to as `going to potter's field.'
The film follows the deaths of three single white middle-aged men in 2001....The inurement and occasional humor displayed by the people who clean up after the dead bodies, sift through their belongings, research their lives, and try to find next of kin, is to be expected in government work (as I was once a civil servant), where the roteness of civil servitude even less interesting than this often holds sway, but especially when one has to deal with about 2000 such cases a year. And when we see the bodies- naked, emotionless, with welts, bruises, or partly rotted and decomposed portions of their forms (these stiffs are called `decomps' in the parlance), inurement seems a wholly reasonable approach one should take to such tasks, such as slinging the dead by their four limbs, like a shot deer (something I recall watching my own dead dad's body enduring)....
The utter lack of staginess and pretense makes this film invaluable, as both a research tool and a warning to those who have disconnected from life. The soundlessness as people do their jobs simply listing the contents of a life that is done is sad, yet not depressing. The only intervention of music in the film comes in a brief moment as an ice cream truck passes by during filming, and at the credit sequence that ends the film. Greensleeves is played, and its musical singularity only multiplies its emotional impact, especially since the film ends near Christmas, signifying it connects to the Resurrection of Christ sung of in the Greensleeves inspired song What Child Is This?....
Yet, A Certain Kind Of Death's value and filmic greatness comes also from restraint- in not going on too long, in not manipulating reality nor the viewer's emotions, and by letting images sink in. Often something interesting or shocking is followed by a several second long `black screen.' For all the countless deaths shown on film in the century plus the medium has existed, none have ever been this realistic, for these deaths are real. Real people die, and are forgotten. The end. Or not, due to this film....
This film is an invaluable document of not only a certain time in American history, but these certain people's lives and deaths, as well as those of the county workers who bandy about terms like dispo, decomp, drayage, and harvesting. That it also comments mightily on the living- such as the fact that all the most menial tasks of destroying and burying remains falls to black and Latino workers, makes this film even more valuable. It's no wonder this film won a Special Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. It is gritty yet poetic, and reinforced by its blackout moments, it forces cogitation upon the viewer, then, upon resumption, shuttles them along. The irony implicit in the film is that the very thing that made these three dead men perfect subjects for the film- their utter disconnect from the rest of humanity, and the genericness of their lives and deaths, is the very thing that assures that they will always be known, at least by documentary film buffs. That this says more of the living than the dead is precisely why A Certain Kind Of Death, with its Joe Friday `Just the facts!' approach is a great documentary, and should be viewed and appreciated for many years to come.