Film is a primarily thought of as a visual medium rather than an aural one, but what if you can’t see any of it? One man has learned how to watch and review movies without having to technically see them.
Tommy Edison is known on YouTube as the Blind Film Critic, where he reviews movies as a way to let viewers know what the moviegoing experience is like for the blind. In an interview with The Guardian, Edison spoke about the value of movies that use sound and music to help tell the story.
The chatty American’s idea for his channel was borne out of frustration. As a film lover, he watched (for want of a better word) as film after film revealed its key plot moments using a visual language he has never been able to translate. A language that understandably left him hanging. “I thought it might be fun to review movies from a blind person’s perspective to show sighted people what that frustration is like,” says Edison.
Edison’s reviews (most of them from 2011 and 2012) are usually limited to quick descriptions of performance and how the music does or doesn’t drive the story: he commends “Hugo‘s” score for telling the viewer that the film is set in Paris when it isn’t mentioned in the film, while he remarks that “The Dark Knight Rises” just sounds like the previous films’ scores on shuffle. Judging from the channel, Edison likes the vast majority of what he sees, but he does largely pan “The Amazing Spider-Man,” criticizing the slow pacing, the underwritten roles for Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield and the fact that James Horner’s score does most of the emoting for Garfield.
One of the other things he notes about “The Amazing Spider-Man” is that Horner’s score is really two different scores that switch back and forth depending on the scene. It’s something that speaks to the tonal (and thematic, and structural, and narrative…) incoherence of the two most recent Spider-Man movies. The problem becomes more pronounced in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” in which goofy clarinet music scores several ostensibly tragic scenes featuring Jamie Foxx’s Electro. None of Foxx’s scenes know whether or not they’re being played for pathos or comedy, which makes them feel all the more mean-spirited. It’s only one of the many, many things about “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” that don’t work, but it’s a case where a film’s aural cues are emblematic of what’s wrong with the film.
Edison is currently at Melbourne’s The Other Film Festival (TOFF), a disability-centered film festival that programs films and events that “embrace the lived experience of disability,” including tools like audio description that narrates what’s happening on the screen visually.
The technology allowed Edison to experience his first silent film last year. “I got it. I knew what it was. That was huge for me,” he says. “Pardon the pun, but it was really eye-opening.” In 2014, Toff will hold a competition to create the best audio description of FW Murnau’s 1922 horror classic Nosferatu– and Edison is one of the judges. But when it comes to the films he reviews as the Blind Critic, having audio description – or even a friend telling him what’s happening – is against his rules. “It would sort of cloud my viewing or understanding of the film, because then it would be about their experience,” he says of the describer. “I can ask questions when it’s all over. But during it I don’t want to know. I’d rather try to figure it out by myself.”