Films a blind man loves

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Try watching slasher parody Scream 4 with your eyes closed and see how much sense it makes. Likewise, the films that comprise Marvel's acclaimed Avengers mega-franchise might seem like a mess if you stripped away the CGI-heavy visuals. On the other hand, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and Kevin Smith's Clerks, with stories driven by strong characters and dialogue, offer up cinematic pleasures even a blind person can appreciate.

Welcome to the world of Tommy Edison. Blind since birth, Edison has over the past four years earned global fame with his YouTube channel The Blind Film Critic. His enthusiasm, easy humour and keen insights while reviewing films both current and classic from the perspective of a blind person have seen him build a considerable following.

'I'd always talked about movies where I could follow the whole story, and then in the last few minutes, they don't talk any more, it's all music and cinematography, and I have no idea how the story ended,' Edison recalls. Recognising a need for blind people to know what they were in for when handing over their money at the box office, he teamed up with his friend, producer and director Ben Churchill.

'We saw Scream 4, shot a review, and put it online,' Edison says. He didn't pull any punches: 'We've waited 11 years for Scream 4,' he says in the intro to that review. 'I hope you like it!' 'I have no idea what happened in the last 20 minutes of this movie,' he continues. 'There were a couple of times where the audience clapped and I thought it was over, but more things kept happening …'

The late great film critic Roger Ebert tweeted a link to Edison's Scream 4 review, and the rest is history. Edison got busy reviewing the latest blockbusters, and fielding requests to have a go at some of his new fans' old favourites.

On the face of it, film is by definition a visual medium. Yet Edison judges films on the quality of the dialogue and its effectiveness in conveying the story, on the vocal performances of the actors, and on the ways in which sound and music help to immerse and engage the blind cinemagoer in the experience of the film. 'The CGI stuff, like Thor, X-Men, these kind of things, may be nice to look at, but there's not much story to it … I get lost.'

In energetic, dialogue-driven films such as Goodfellas and Clerks, on the other hand, 'the ride never stops'. Music can play an important role in this. During Goodfellas' 'manic' final scenes 'the music gets manic as well … it propels the story'. In the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski — another favourite — Kenny Rogers' 'Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)' aptly conveys the weirdness of the film's notorious 'Gutter Balls' montage.

'The Artist didn't work much for me,' Edison says, emitting one of his trademark belly-laughs — Michel Hazanavicius' 2011 Academy Award winning film is famously dialogue-free. Likewise car-racing movie The Fast and the Furious left Edison cold: 'It sounds okay for a few minutes, but an hour and a half of that? I could put on the Indianapolis 500 and they would at least be announcing it.'

As funny and fascinating as his frank and insightful film critiques are, equally fascinating is Edison's parallel video series about the experience of being blind. Prompted by questions from his YouTube fan-base, Edison attempts to describe anything from everyday challenges such as using an ATM to how a blind person understands colour or 'intangible concepts' such as 'sunset' and 'space'.

The instalment on describing colour provides a good introduction to Edison's style and substance. 'I have never seen colour, I have no concept of it,' he says in the video. His delivery is generally light-hearted, but in the course of these ruminations, Edison identifies what may be a fundamental limitation of language itself. 'Ice is blue. The sky is blue. How can ice and the sky be the same thing?' he wonders.

Edison tells Eureka Street that his efforts to understand and articulate these kinds of experiences were as edifying for him as they no doubt are illuminating to his sighted fans. 'To have to sit and explain what I know about colour and what I don't know about colour was very tricky,' he says. 'But it was fun. It made me think. It was something I'd never really thought about before.'

Edison is in Melbourne this week as a special guest at The Other Film Festival. Besides featuring films by and about people with various disabilities, the annual festival prides itself on providing a broad range of accessibility features, such as audio description technology for people with visual impairment — a feature that Edison is particularly excited about. 'We don't have that at home,' he says. 'I'm looking forward to it.'

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tommy Edison, Blind Film Critic, Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese, Kevin Smith, Clerks, Thor, The Avengers



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Existing comments

Actually, there are a number of films I go to where I close my eyes, deliberately. I'm not one to appreciate the full horror of, say, a horror movie. Tommy Edison is perceptive and likes to think outside the square - wonderful attributes.

Pam | 04 December 2014  

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