“DJIBOUTI HAS ALWAYS BEEN CHINESE”

With 130 hours clocked in on the ultimately godforsaken task of watching captioned and audio-described movies, last night I was superexecutively Yarissed out to Mississauga, home to the sole cinema still running Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with MoPix.

I loved it! Especially the movie. As soon as the lights went up, though, it became obvious my esteemed colleagues were baffled and overwhelmed by the experience. That happens like clockwork – the whole thing is a bit too much stimulation for the neophyte. (And everyone’s a critic.) As with captioning, where you have to sit there watching TV for two weeks straight just to develop the neurological ability to assimilate all that information at once, your first experience of cinema audio description will probably be your worst. It’s certainly happened with other writers I’ve brought to MoPix movies.

I don’t know of any writer who’s tried it more than once, so first experiences become last experiences, which makes grand pronouncements tempting. Journos can’t help noticing the established conventions of audio description. (They’re word people, and description is fundamentally literary.) The pitfall to avoid is going gotcha! and acting like you spotted a mistake. It probably wasn’t a mistake; we aren’t debugging software and you haven’t isolated a regression. It’s just that the whole thing is new.

We can’t rewind the movie to explain why things are done that way, or why something might be an outright mistake, a judgement call you happen to disagree with, or a practice that dearly needs to be tested. Yet almost all respondents in the only credible survey of audio-description users claim they get just the right amount of information. (That means we are arguing over edge cases.)

I speak for a lot of us when I say we have a great deal of battle fatigue after fighting a ground war for decades just to make things like movies basically accessible to blind or deaf people. Generally they aren’t. On the rare occasion it actually happens, people think the job is done. But can’t we improve anything? What needs to be improved? Why can’t we study that? After years of frustration, there’s only so much explaining I can manage. It is too much for me to be advocate, critic (everyone is), and ambassador all at once.

In whatever story comes out of this, I would anticipate a tone of general bafflement and worldly dismissal, the latter of which, at least, is also a pitfall to avoid. Still, if the resulting DVD contains the description track, which rare Universal Studios discs do, one could have a very special kind of viewing party. Send the same people.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.09.02 01:17. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2010/09/02/pilgrimage/

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