Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She’s dead as earth.
King Lear, Act V, scene iii
If you’re stuck at home during COVID-19 quarantine or if you’re working and need a break to help you put life into perspective, I recommend the list of movies and documentaries about death provided by the Order of the Good Death. The selection is great and made up of quality films.
My personal favourite was The Bridge, a documentary about the Golden Gate bridge as a popular landmark for suicides. My initial attraction to the movie was that I am in love with San Francisco and my main goal in life right now is to find a way to relocate there from Canada. I never realized that other people would go there for the express purpose of taking their own lives. To me, what made the documentary strong was that it never exploited people’s suffering or idealized suicide. In fact, it became about stories of resilience and helping people overcome suicide ideation. I warn you that the movie is graphic, showing people taking their lives as they jump off the bridge. But, that very stark look at suicide is what makes the movie so strong.
“One of the comforts of studying history is that, no matter how bad things get, you can always find a moment in the past when things were much, much worse. Some commentators on our current crisis [of COVID-19] have been throwing around comparisons to earlier pandemics, and the Black Death of 1347–50 inevitably gets mentioned. Please. The Black Death wiped out half the population of Europe in the space of four years. In some places the mortality was far swifter and deadlier than that. The novelist Giovanni Boccaccio, who gave us the most vivid picture of the Black Death in literature, estimated that 100,000 people died in Florence in the four months between March and July 1348. The population of the city in 1338, according to one contemporary chronicler, stood at 120,000.”
“Like COVID-19, the disease spread with bewildering rapidity, but unlike in the modern pandemic, it infected everyone, young and old, rich and poor, not mainly the old and infirm. And again unlike the current virus, the effects of bubonic plague were particularly humiliating. Tumor-like growths as big as apples, called ‘bubos,’ would appear in the groin or armpit. Gangrenous blotches would appear on hands and feet causing the skin to turn black and die. The victims would start coughing up blood, all their bodily fluids stank and their breath became putrid. ‘The stench of dead bodies, sickness and medicines seemed to fill and pollute the whole atmosphere.’ There was no dying with dignity during the Black Death.”
James Hankins, Social Distancing During the Black Death, Quillette, March 28, 2020.
I am a big fan of the YouTube channel Ask a Mortician by Cailtin Doughty. I especially love the videos on historical corpses. In all of her videos, Doughty not only provides tons of interesting information but shares it in a clear and direct style with a touch of humor. I could say the same about her writing. I was excited to pick up a copy of her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. At no point was the book morbid despite being about dying, death rites, the funeral industry and corpses. I found it informing and a pleasure to read.
I highly recommend it, particularly because I think it would be accessible to a wide range of reading skills. The style was straight-forward and easy to read, and the content never failed to keep me informed and entertained.
Did you know that Vic Morrow and two child actors, Renee Shinn Chen and Myca Dinh Le, were killed in an accident involving a helicopter during filming on the California set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Morrow, age 53, and the children, ages 6 and 7, were shooting a Vietnam War battle scene in which they were supposed to be running from a pursuing helicopter. Special-effects explosions on the set caused the pilot of the low-flying craft to lose control and crash into the three victims. The accident took place on the film’s last scheduled day of shooting.
Read more about the tragedy at History.com.