Traces of Death Easier to Watch Than The Way We Get By


Aron Gaudet’s documentary is a combination of sure-fire lump-in-the-throat subjects: soldiers returning from war and elderly folks contemplating The End. Traces of Death is easier to watch. The film stars a trio of Maine retirees, who make themselves available, all hours, day and night, to greet, shake hands, and thank—in broad New English—troops returning stateside from Iraq via the Bangor Airport. The title refers to the idea that, by scheduling their lives as a welcoming committee, these men and woman give structure and meaning to existences lacking both. (Says one: “I don’t know what I’ll do when they all get home.”) It’s the stuff of a fine short on what any Bowling Alone reader knows is the last generation of civic-minded civilians, but Gaudet has a hard time extending his material to feature length. I came to best like Bill Knight, World War II vet and, at 87, the oldest by over a decade. His widower’s approach to housekeeping gives his home, a chaos of moldering collections and scavenging cats, definite visual flair, and he holds up well under vulture-like close-ups. Asked if he fears dying alone: “It’s nothing to get excited about.”