Joe Does the Movies: Accessible movie reviews in Toronto

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Seen: 2003.09.09   ¶   Reviewed: 2003.10.15

It was another superspecial event in which Joe played hostess. The Web Accessibility Initiative Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Techniques Task Force Face-to-Face (WAI WCAG TF f2f) was in town. I killed, of course.

I hosted two attendees who were able to stay late enough in the week to attend a MoPix movie night: Mr & Ms C (no relation). We’ll get their comments shortly.

Now. I am a fan of Clark Johnson, a Canadian-American black man who is famous, and dear to my heart, from the series Homicide: Life on the Street, which I have rather grown out of (as I write this, a repeat is on television and I am leaving my set turned off) but which I recall fondly. (Luther Mahoney: “Your moms is next.”) He’s been in scores of “episodics” and has directed many television episodes. Apparently S. L. Jackson recommended him for this potboiler, which, in some ways, I enjoyed.

But I have uneasy and unpredictable reactions to violent films. Realistic violence, by which I mean shooting and guns, disturbs me greatly. It offends my moral core, and that is not an intellectualization: I feel it somewhere deep within myself. It has always been thus, from the evening a friend of the family (late-40s dowager type – I seem to have attracted faghags early on) took me to see The Godfather. Watching people (or, just as bad, animals) getting shot actually harms, impairs, weakens, and diminishes me.

I’m not putting up with it anymore. I renounce my previous oath to watch every MoPixed film. If I believe it will entail realistic gunshot wounds, I’m not fucking going. I don’t fucking care. I’m not.

I further resent the cultural hegemony involved: Americans with their guns and their equally rapacious export, cinema. I don’t have to live with the former as a Canadian resident, but I have to live with the latter, which, like every Canadian, I do in a state of denial: I like watching American films even though I know they crowd out Canadian pictures. But if you put guns and movies together, I feel like I’m being brainwashed, that it is simply assumed everyone will be unaffected or unharmed by watching an American movie where people get shot in the head.

I don’t think so.

I will exercise my prerogative to boycott the actual review process for SWAT. I will note that Colin Farrell is as winsome as ever (even if he’s short), and this heterosexualist black male director found excuses to get him and the impossibly-built Ladies Love Cool James fully or partly shirtless. And fey, baby-faced Josh Charles, famed only from Threesome, plays the structurally-gay character: An epicure who betrays the real men. The fact that he takes girls out for fine dining is merely a diversionary tactic. Josh Charles: Effete, uniform-loving wine-snob psycho mercenary turncoat. He’s right out of the Hays Code.

Theatre experience

Mr & Ms C barely showed up on time, and tried to overpay with doubloons. Getting the gear was no problem. I had Ms C sign in, and told the staff yet again that customers should not sign the book directly, since we can read other people’s names and numbers.

Caption quality

A girlfriend unit of some male character or other sighs, but it’s uncaptioned.

I have a note saying M-four, as though it should have been written M4, which it probably should have. 9-Tom-King and 9-Tom King: The former, please.

$100 million and 100 million dollars: The former, please.

(gunfire) as individual guns are individually fired with discernible individual explosions at a range. (gunshots) or (gun fires) or (guns fire) would be better.

The Spanish inverted exclamation point, ¡, which was never included in any Line 21 character set even while ¿ was, is equally missing here, and the Caption Center perpetrates its 1980s-style hack of using lower-case i, which has serifs and is not, in any event, a ¡. ¡Puerco! ¿Puerco? is actually rendered as iPuerco! ¿Puerco?

(Spanish rap music continues): I think they used a lower-case s.

I look like IAD. to you? Still the Caption Center cannot escape its 1980s-style hack of writing acronyms with periods. And again: Huh, T.J? (You could at least argue that name initials should use periods. But use as many as needed, not half that.) (all humming theme from "S.W.A.T") is wrong several ways.

However, I haven’t seen a sentence in the last five years that begins with two types of acronyms, one pronounceable, one not: LAPD SWAT is the most honoured, most respected, and most professional force in the world.

But this was too hard to decode: MTA COP (over radio):. I would have used periods in M.T.A.

And SWAT's a-calling: No, it is a calling. It calls you. It is not a-callin’.

“That a new course record?” was captioned as New course record. “This is Lt. Harrelson, Olympic SWAT commander” was captioned as This is Lt. Hondo, Olympic SWAT commander. I believe this is a rare (but ever-less-rare) case of post-postproduction sweetening.

“Yamada” was captioned as Yamoto; correct spelling, incorrect pronunciation on the part of Samuel L. Jackson.

“Well, there’s your plan, pumpkin” was missing the last word in captions.

MR. SEGERSTROM: was IDed in captions, but had not been in the movie.

I also seem to have inferred another Caption Center rule: They don’t ID the start of a musical number if later caption density prevents them from using a caption along the lines of (music continues). One will be alert for counterexamples. Captions, Inc. doesn’t do it that way.

Number five-zero-seven: Here we frigging go again. Number 507, you mean? Federal prisoner number one-zero-nine-six-seven-two: 109672, you mean?

(unholsters gun): That’s what happened, yes. This is why WGBH is correct to call its staff caption writers rather than editors.

Description quality

Not applicable.

Listen, going to these captions-only movies is weird. It’s weird hearing the full audio volume while also watching captions. (I simply do not get it when people complain they can’t hear the movie through the headsets. Perhaps they are also hearing-impaired. In any event, it argues for improved headset design.)


No problems, I guess.

Exit interview

We handed in our gear and were on our way. Ms C was in reticent mode again as she and Mr. C headed down Queen St. I think she was glad to get away from me.

Superspecial guest commentary!

Naturally, I insisted that Mr. & Ms C write their own minireviewettes.

Ms C

Thanks again for taking us. It was a good experience.

I was surprised that some sounds were captioned and others were not. Some of the captions were not descriptive or helpful. I wondered if the captions were effective at creating the same suspense that the audio did. For example, after the “bad guys” hijacked the subway car and the “good guys” were approaching it, there was thumping. The thumping that I heard made me wonder what they would encounter, combined with the fact that it took them so long to approach it. The captions were “thumping, thumping.” I wonder if the same suspense was created by the captions? Could the captions have been more descriptive? I’m not sure it was clear from the captions what was thumping (the sounds of their feet? Someone from the inside of the car? Something mechanical?).

On the other hand, how helpful is “pneumatic motor whirring” or whatever that was? How many people would know what a pneumatic engine sounded like?

As [Mr. C] and I discussed after the movie, there were some of the radio transmissions that were captioned but that we couldn’t hear. Usually, they were “inaudible radio transmission” but sometimes they captioned them.

I had to adjust my reflector a couple of times so that I could follow the action (which was really fast) and read the captions as well. I ended up covering about half of the video with the reflector.

I won’t comment on the movie itself...

Mr. C

As a first-timer in a theater with a Rear Window Captioning installation (the nearest one to my home town is approximately two hours away), I found myself (a) impressed with the overall simplicity and effectiveness of the setup and (b) wondering why these installations weren’t more widely available.

The reflectors allowed viewers to position the captions nearly anywhere on the screen. I experimented with a few reflector positions during the course of the movie and found that the captions were easiest to read when positioned immediately below the screen, where the background was dark and the brightness of the images on screen did not interfere with the legibility of the captions themselves and the darkness and transparency of the reflector did not interfere with the view of the movie. The reflector hardware itself reminded me a bit of an old reading lamp that had long ago lost its ability to remain stationary and I found myself having to reposition it (or myself) a number of times during the course of the movie in order to keep the captions in view. I can only imagine that this will become increasingly frustrating as the reflectors age.

While I wasn’t nearly awake enough to note differences between the audio and the captions, I did find it interesting how some of the sound effects and music were handled. In some cases, there were segments where the captions noted that radio chatter was inaudible and others where it was difficult to hear and inconsequential to the story line, but captioned nonetheless. In the case of music, the lyrics of some but not all songs were included.

Regarding other sound effects, it was interesting to note which sound effects were noted in captions and which were not. I too found myself wondering whether the captions conveyed similar suspense or meaning in comparison with the audio track. For example, during fight scenes the emphasis placed on the audio of a person being thrown against the side of a train car seemed out of proportion with the attention these sound effects were given in captions.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got. Thanks for taking the time to tour us through the setup and I hope the pictures are helpful.

What’s that about pictures?

Yes, I have the first-ever really good photos of the display and reflector. Later I will post them.