Joe Does the Movies: Accessible movie reviews in Toronto

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Time Machine

Seen: 2002.03.11   ¶   Reviewed: 2002.03.17

I did something different for this one: I organized a Movie Night. Among various invitees, only a few could make it: John Hauber of Galaviz & Hauber, who do audio description for TV here, plus his gf unit and daughter unit, and three fellows from the Toronto International Film Festival.

I stood in the theatre lobby with blind-date anxiety waiting for everyone to show up. I had implored Famous Players not to blow our cover and alert the theatre that we’d be coming. (So why did I tell them in the first place?) John and the family arrive, then the TIFF lads, and upstairs we went. At Guest Services a whole lot happened:

The movie ran. There were no captions for the first five minutes. Great time for the system to crash, I thought.

I almost never find it overwhelming to deal with captions, descriptions, main audio, and film or video all at once. Now I know, however, what you have to add to make me zone out of the whole experience: Getting upstaged at my own movie night and wondering what the fork is going on with the seating arrangements. I eventually calmed down enough to recognize that:

John phased in and out of caption-watching and description-listening. He loves the captions, hates the audio quality of the descriptions (the fabled hiss, which I didn’t notice tonight). John has very keen ears for dialogue audio, as I’ve witnessed firsthand. I couldn’t tell what his gf and daughter units were doing. Nor did I know about the farings of the TIFF satellite group.

Remember my perennial complaints about the red LED atop the description headset? How it lets everyone behind you ray-trace every jot and jiggle of your head? Well, newsflash for Joe: Blind people won’t move their heads much! (A low-vision person might.) I had to look around to find the actual blind person in the theatre.

The movie ended. John rushed down to talk to the blind fellow. I went over to the TIFF lads. “Now may I sit?” I said, channelling disagreeable vixen Samantha on Sex and the City. The lads took the question in the light-hearted vein in which it was partly intended. We had a very fast and dense conversation about all manner of captioning and description technologies. (A “playa” of course came up and asked us if we enjoyed the show. One is accustomed to this level of good service.)

We mosied on down the hall. Fortunately, no upstaging manager was present. John had to go (three more hours of work that night!), but the TIFF lads and I kept on talking as I walked them to their car. Nothing has been decided yet, but something has to be possible, and I’m already volunteering to set it up.

Caption quality

To my great surprise, the Caption Center has decided that we don’t need to indicate when a quoted work is read aloud – except for the first and last captions.

The right way

For a spoken quotation that extends beyond one caption (even if it’s only two captions), place an open quote at the beginning of all captions but the last, which has only an end quote. There are no other quotes. Example:

“And from somewhere
in our black subconscious minds
when we’re asleep

“comes a haunting, swirling
mass of voices resonating.

“It screams of forgotten voices
and the cries of innocents

and the desperate plea for recognition
and recompense.”

The wrong ways
  • Opening quote at first caption, end quote at last. (That’s the MoPix way.)
  • Quotes around all captions (indicates each caption is a completed quote; there’s no arguing with that one, try as you might).
  • No quotes.
  • Italics. (Quotes within quotes follow the same pattern, and yes, I have seen them done right and wrong, the latter chiefly by NCI, who use italics.)

Worse yet, in The Time Machine this extended quote was broken up by a caption of non-speech information. (You have to close the quote with an ellipsis or dash, run the NSI, then reopen and restart the quote.)

Also, as I had half-noticed before, captions default to the top of the screen rather than the bottom. This is perhaps defensible given that nearly everyone adjusts the reflectors so the captions are just below the picture.

I also have noted a definite tendency to notate all the music they can possibly fit in. I assume this is because it is assumed that everyone with any kind of hearing will be able to tell that music is playing in a loud movie theatre. I suppose (dramatic music playing) is all right; (playing Viennese waltz) might or might not be (isn’t there but one Vienna waltz)?

And by the way, how do we know the “aboriginals” are speaking a “native” language? By definition it could have been imposed by the psychokinetic/telepathic overlord Über-Morlock, Jeremy Irons in drag. (Another of the implausible conceits. I haven’t exhaustively listed them.) And after we learn that the “aboriginals” call themselves the Eloi, are they not suddenly deemed to be speaking Eloi, if not the true generic, speaking foreign language? Also, when Eloi was transliterated, what’s with the ugly apostrophe after every syllable?

Still no caption-ending commas. Get with the program here.

Description quality

Listen, I couldn’t follow half of what was happening. I am sure this was due to my distraction, but I wasn’t distracted the whole time through. The mofos just wouldn’t shut up, but managed to fail to describe what the “aboriginals” really looked like, or what anyone other than Alexander (viz. Guy Pearce) looked like. “Trepidatiously” was, however, my favourite adverb of the evening.

John immediately entered dudgeon mode over the DVS trope “our view,” as in “Our view drifts down,” “Our view changes,” “Our view pulls back.” I think he objects to the presumptuousness of “our.” As if reading his mind, in the rest of the film descriptions merely stated “the view,” which works well.

Here’s a special note for faux-purists, especially at cinema-ignorant AudioVision Canada, who deny outright that blind people know or care anything about cinematic structures as simple as opening credits: Cinematic devices are often foreground information in modern films, particularly effects movies like The Time Machine, and there has to be a way of telling us about them that recognizes that sighted people will recognize they’re devices. We cease to natively and immanently understand the visuals; we become aware that we are watching.

Miles Neff was yet again the narrator. The only MoPixed movie I’ve seen with a narrator other than him was the snippet of Monsters, Inc. There’s consistency and then there’s I’m Getting Tired of Always Hearing Miles Neff.

Exit interview

None, except with the TIFF lads.

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