The lights will come on again!


The ByTowne is now closed. But there's good news!

After the pandemic has been brought under control,
new management will take over the space and the ByTowne will re-open.

It may take a while for pandemic restrictions to be eased enough
that a feasible number of patrons can be allowed to watch a movie again,
but the new owners are working towards that day.

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An inside look at life on the New York Times obituaries desk.

In Obit, Vanessa Gould takes us into the cubicles producing obituaries for The New York Times – not nearly the humour-free zone newcomers may expect. Engaging and lively, the movie almost immediately clarifies that, at the Times, at least, obituaries are about lives lived: ‘Maybe a sentence or two will be about the death,’ says one ‘obituarist,’ and that leaves an awful lot of work for a writer on deadline who gets around seven hours to master a subject’s entire life.

Poster for the life-affirming documentary Obit.The first challenge is figuring out who makes the cut: Even before they’ve dug into the background of someone whose death has been announced, the journalists need a gut feeling for what makes someone who isn’t a present-tense celebrity newsworthy. Sometimes they get lucky, as in the case of John Fairfax, the first person to ever cross an ocean in a rowboat. Turns out, that impressive feat was practically the least interesting thing about him: ‘At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle,’ Fox’s obituary marveled, going on to note that at one point ‘he was apprenticed to a pirate.’

Many stories are no-brainers, of course, and the film looks at how the deaths of historical figures and movie stars are handled. A politician like Ronald Reagan might have several drafts of his life composed by staffers before he dies; in the case of a Michael Jackson or a Prince, music writer Jon Pareles may get an emergency call to sum up an icon’s life on the spot.

We sit in on a few editorial meetings to hash out which individuals make the cut and how much column space each should be allotted. Obit editor William McDonald gets to weigh the desires of writers like Bruce Weber and Paul Vitello, who seem often to fall in love with these people they’ll never meet; why else would they beg for more space to, for example, write about the man who played bass on Bill Haley’s 1954 record ‘Rock Around the Clock’?

Those writers make for fun company here, however much they claim people avoid them at cocktail parties. But they’re sometimes upstaged by seersucker-clad Jeff Roth, an overseer of the paper’s vast archive of clippings. Wry about the arcane way things are organized (or not) here, he’s an obsessive whose enthusiasm is contagious. On the day he passes from this mortal realm – may it be several decades from now, and may no one use such a hackneyed euphemism – Roth would seem to promise an obituary worth reading.

– John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter

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