• Day 11: Planet of the Apes Grieving for Their Ape Kind Dead

    Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps
    Maggie Koerth-Baker, New York Times Magazine (June 25, 2013)

    Today is the release date for the new Planet of the Apes movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

    We’ll set aside all the timeline problems and alternative universes this specific reboot created. And no one should ever speak again of Tim Burton’s terrible remake.

    What everyone should be discussing is how apes grieve for their dead. The New York Times Magazine ran an article in June 2013 on this topic. The Death Reference Desk has also written about Chimpanzees and grief before, in 2010 and 2009.

    You can also read more generally about animals and death here.

    Whenever we Humans start discussing our primate cousins and grieving, we run the risk of going on an anthropomorphising rampage. That said, it’s clear that our Great Ape relatives could teach us a few things about understanding mortality and the finality of time.

    Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps Maggie Koerth-Baker, New York Times Magazine (June 25, 2013) Today is the release date for the new…

  • Gravity is a Movie about a Dead Child

    Gravity (2013) IMBD (December 22, 2013)   Do not read this Death Ref post if you have not seen the film Gravity and would rather…

  • Unexplained Dollhouse Deaths in LONDON

    Of Dolls and Murder UK Premier
    Horse Hospital in London (November 30, 2011)

     

    “Of Dolls & Murder”: The World’s First True Crime Puppet Show
    Colin Covert, Star Tribune (September 27, 2011)

     

    Of Dolls and Murder
    Bruce Goldfarb, Welcome to Baltimore, Hon! (September 25, 2010)

    This is a Death Reference Desk post which begins in December 2007.

    At that time, I was contacted by Minneapolis based filmmaker and writer Susan Marks about her new documentary film. She was working on a film about the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, located in Baltimore, Maryland. I had never heard of the “Nutshells” (as they’re called by those in the know) but once Susan brought me up to speed on the project, I wanted in.

    The Nutshells are an astoundingly detailed set of miniature dollhouse dioramas, some 18 in total, and each of them represents an unexplained death. All of the dioramas were painstakingly created by Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy woman who went a long ways in founding the field of modern forensic science. All of this during the first half of the twentieth century. Harvard University (where Frances Glessner Lee was based) originally kept the Nutshells but then sold them to the Maryland Department of Health in Baltimore.

    Of Dolls and Murder

    Here’s the rub: the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are so exquisitely detailed that police departments still use them today for crime scene investigation training. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, nothing beats a well built diorama!

    This all brings me back to 2007. Susan wanted to interview me about representations of death, dying, and dead bodies in popular culture, film, art, and science. Making a documentary film about the Nutshells was pretty straightforward (more or less) but what Susan wanted to ponder was a bigger question. She wanted to understand how the Nutshells might shed light on the current fascination with all things dead, dying, and CSI.

    I have never seen the Nutshells, only photographs, but in those images I was struck by the following thought: We humans aren’t looking at the dead dolls for crime scene clues. No. We humans look at those dead dolls (and the dolls look back) in order to find some kind meaning, if that’s even possible, in death.

    The Nutshells aren’t about unsolved deaths. They’re about the human imagination grappling with the postmortem insecurities which surround the dead self.

    The finished documentary, Of Dolls and Murder, will premiere in the UK on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at the Horse Hospital in London.

    John Waters narrates the documentary (he’s from Baltimore too…).

    I’ll be conducting a Q and A after the Horse Hospital screening.

    Keep an eye out for Of Dolls and Murder. I have a hunch that it is going to be much discussed this year and next. It’s already won audience awards all over the world.

    Here’s another trailer to sample of the darkness.

     

    Of Dolls and Murder UK Premier Horse Hospital in London (November 30, 2011)   “Of Dolls & Murder”: The World’s First True Crime Puppet Show…

  • Sick Beauty in the Stains of Death: Sarah Sudhoff’s “At the Hour of Our Death”

    At the Hour of Our Death Sarah Sudhoff Our worldly possessions speak to how we live, while their particular aesthetics — the whorl of this…

  • Kevorkian Revisited

    Independent Minds: Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Listen to the audio) Heard an interesting public radio broadcast this evening. It’s a series titled “Independent Minds” and tonight’s…

  • No Next of Kin

    A Certain Kind of Death (2003). Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock New York: Wellspring. DVD / VHS documentary. http://www.acertainkindofdeath.com Find in a library What happens…