Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary
The Art of Dying, on Video: Deathbed Documentaries
Chapter 2 continues the opposition between the visible “moment of death” and the nebulous process of dying by examining long-term chronicles of natural dying. This documentary practice gained traction through the rise of analog video and then digital video. With newly affordable and user-friendly equipment, both professionals and family members began to bring cameras to the bedsides of the dying, who collaborated in recording their own deaths. Their documentaries—including the filmic precursor Dying; Silverlake Life: The View from Here; and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist—challenge the primacy of the visible “moment of death” by systematically excluding it, despite technology’s newfound readiness to capture it. They instead use video’s affordances to make the long process of dying newly public, detailing the illness that precedes this “moment” and the mourning that follows it. The chapter argues, though, that this exclusion also reveals a new discomfort with dying’s physicality, as the surprisingly routine “moment” of bodily expiration conflicts with the era’s revised model of the “good death” as highly individualized.