“The Real Story Behind the Movie Get Low” is one of the most-visited posts here at The Family Plot Blog. While the true story is fascinating, as today’s Friday Funeral Film, Get Low offers vital lessons on funeral planning BEFORE there’s a death in the family.
The basic story: Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is a Tennessee hermit with no regard for anybody in the nearby town. No one in town wants to get to know him. They are scared by his gruff demeanor and stories of evil history.
One day, after he hears that a contemporary has died, he goes into town. People are afraid of him. Bush decides that he needs to get his affairs in order and find out what stories people are telling about him.
He recruits the local funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) to host Bush’s funeral. This way he can hear what everyone is saying about him, and get the truth about his mysterious past out in the open.
The film story does not reflect the real story in many aspects. In real life, Felix “Bush” Breazeale’s funeral party took place in the summer of 1938 with eight to twelve thousand people attending. In the film, the event took place in the winter with a hundred or so people. Nonetheless, let’s look at the story for its funeral planning lessons.
Felix Bush first visits a local preacher to arrange his funeral. “‘Bout time for me to get low,” he says, meaning “get down to business.” The preacher asks, “Are you sick?” “Everybody dies,” Bush replies. He wants to know what the preacher would say about him and the preacher admits he doesn’t know much about him and asks if he has made peace with God. “I’ve paid,” says Bush. “You can’t buy forgiveness,” replies the preacher. This sends Bush out of the church in search of a way to do his own funeral his own way.
Lesson number one: Religious dictates can drive people away from funeral planning. At least Bush is facing his mortality and starting to take some steps for his own goodbye in his own way.
Funeral Party Planning
Before Felix shows up at the funeral home, Frank Quinn bemoans the lack of business saying, “What are the odds of a funeral home going broke? You have a business that everyone on earth needs, and yet, I don’t know. What do you do when people don’t die?”
His comments show that funeral directors do want people to come in and plan. They are hungry for your business. When Felix Bush shows up with his out-of-the-ordinary request for a funeral party, Frank says yes.
Most funeral homes want your business. If you’ve got ideas for a truly different event, they are willing to work with you to make it happen. If a funeral home won’t work with you to create the kind of event you want, it’s a good bet there are other establishments in town that will.
Funerals and weddings have similar elements. Yet, if brides and grooms planned their weddings the way most people plan their funerals, they’d be scrambling to pull everything together in three to five days. When Quinn shows Bush his caskets, Bush says, “Forget the box. What else?” Quinn names flowers, burial plot, and a service.
At their most basic, both weddings and funerals call for a place and time to hold an event, and a list of people to invite for attendance. The cable program “Best Funeral Ever” showed the extent to which some funeral directors will go to make a life celebration out of a funeral.
It was interesting that Quinn’s assistant Buddy said, “The whole thing about making a carnival out of someone’s death, I just don’t know if it’s right.” Let’s look at some of the steps Frank Quinn took in Get Low to create Felix Bush’s funeral party:
- He had Mr. Bush’s picture taken to create flyers advertising the funeral party.
- He outfitted Bush in a new set of clothes.
- He placed ads in newspapers and posted flyers in four counties (public invitations).
- He arranged to have Bush interviewed on the radio, to alert everyone in a four county area about the event.
- He collected the money raised by the raffle of Bush’s property.
- He had a stage set up in a field for the event and brought in a band to play music.
- He set up a public address system powered by a generator for the funeral party.
- He managed the money and all the event elements.
Lesson number two: Funeral directors are event planners. Funerals are simply the party no one wants to plan.
Lesson number three: Having a funeral party for yourself (before one is deceased) is perfectly appropriate. Why not draw everyone together to celebrate your life while you are still around to enjoy the party? It’s especially good for those on hospice care, when a limited life span is officially recognized. We can stop pretending that life as we know it will never end and celebrate the days we have.
Get Low shows one way to get out there and take a stand. Get Low was released in 2009/2010 and is rated PG-13. It is available on Netflix and for sale (as available) at Amazon.com.
The Doyenne of Death® Gail Rubin helps start serious conversations by presenting talks that use funny films to illustrate funeral planning issues. More information at www.AGoodGoodbye.com.