I like arthouse cinema and my girlfriend is blind. What should we watch?
April 8, 2021 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Last week we watched Before Sunrise, and she liked it enough to be willing to watch the sequels. Before that we watched My Dinner With Andre, and I think she found it daunting but didn't complain. She's very accommodating and watches whatever I put on, but I'd like to find things we can equally enjoy. I know she's interested in those films with alternate audio tracks for the visually impaired. Any thoughts are welcome, and extra points for recommendations I can stream on the Criterion app. Also, she's not 100% blind. She's about 20/240 with glasses and mostly colorblind.
posted by jwhite1979 to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:26 PM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Speaking as the sighted half of a sighted/blind couple who has described more movies and TV programs than I can count over 20-odd years, as far as I'm aware Criterion isn't really up to date on audio-described titles, so you may be out of luck on that front.

While not Criterion, Netflix has been building the number of audio-described titles available on the service. Also, the American Council for the Blind maintains a very up-to-date (and charmingly Web 1.0) list of audio description available across streaming services, broadcast, and DVD/Blu-Ray.

But here's the thing: if there's a film you're passionate about, and really want to share it in an accessible way, you can do it as the in-house describer.

Being familiar through previous or repeat viewings makes it pretty easy, and I can vouch for the fact that it's something that gets easier with practice.

It's a weird art/skill that's pretty specific to tastes in movies, a person's level of visual impairment, and the rapport you have with the person you're describing things for.

If you spend some time watching and listening to some audio-described titles and start to absorb how it's done, you'll get better at it. It's also a practice thing.

Sometimes we pause and rewind because there will be a sequence that needs a bit of setup for context. There's a comfort level we have about "Oh wait. Hang on. Gonna pause and back up. Let me set that up," and it's not a jarring thing because we've agreed that this is a thing that might happen on a first-watch viewing for us, and I think I'm reasonably good at spotting "Oh, this is going to be a confusing scene if he doesn't know that in the distant background, that other character is lurking while these other two are having an argument... etc."

As a caveat: in my experience, subtitled movies are another thing entirely. Just throwing this our there for example, but if you watch a show like Narcos on Netflix with the audio description (AD) enabled, you'll see that they do a very good job of working in readouts of the Spanish/English subtitling in concert with the AD. It's quite something. Generally speaking, though, in my experience, on a practical level subtitled movies are hard to DIY on the couch at home. I've tried, and we've basically landed on me enjoying subtitled movies that lack an AD track on my own or with friends.

I will leave off with this: Films I've seen before (or even ones that I've seen for the first time) and had to describe to my husband has given me an appreciation for certain details or elements that I may have missed in previous viewings, or that I wouldn't have needed to consider while watching it without having had to describe it.

My own experience of those films has been enriched by having to think about what's important information about setting, lighting, POV, background action/objects, facial expressions, body language, colours, etc.

In conclusion, I'm going to repeat myself by saying that making the effort to consider directorial, set decoration, sound design, or acting choices from a different POV (i.e., "How would I explain this to someone who can't -- or only partially -- see this, so that the ensuing dialogue and sounds make sense?") can really enhance your own enjoyment of the film.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:29 PM on April 8, 2021 [33 favorites]

I wonder how your experience would be with filmed one person performances like Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain slow, Spaulding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia, Anna Deveare Smith’s show about the LA Riots, or Roger Guenveur Smith’s show about Huey P Newton.
posted by vunder at 6:41 PM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Jay Forry is a well-known blind movie reviewer.
As Jay explains, its more about story than relying on cheap visual effects. But at the same time, there are some great movies out there that still achieve sci-fi like status only with "hearingary" sound (my own coinage for "heard but 'visionary'").

Not what you're asking for, but there is also books on tape. Sure they're much longer, to perhaps be divided up over nights; instead you could go with short stories if episodic entertainment was required. Lately I've been falling asleep to Candlelit Tales podcast (irish mythology), but anything of that ilk is likely to be fruitful. Spoken stories puts you both on the same grounds with something gained (imagination) rather than part just being missed by either of you.
posted by rubatan at 6:48 PM on April 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

mandolin conspiracy has put it far more eloquently than I can, but I just want to second everything they said. I'm totally blind, and some of my fondest memories are spending time with my Dad, watching movies together. It was hard to find audio description when I was younger, though we eventually got an expansive collection on VHS. He was very good at describing where AD wasn't available, and the intimacy of the experience cannot be overstated.
posted by Alensin at 7:21 PM on April 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

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