Film is More Than a Visual Medium for “Blind Film Critic” Tommy Edison


Time for an experiment: Pop a movie in your DVD player. Make some popcorn, sit down and prepare to enjoy. But, as you push play, close your eyes. This is what the movie-going experience is like for Tommy Edison, better known to his fans on YouTube as the “Blind Film Critic.”

A lifelong movie lover, Edison’s criteria for what makes a great film are different from that of the average viewer. While sighted viewers might forgive a movie’s hackneyed plot, cliché-ridden script or uneven characterization if the special effects are spectacular, Edison says that, “If you take the [visual aspects of a film] away, sometimes it leaves a whole lot to be desired.” His appreciation of a film therefore hinges on the quality of its script, actors, character development, soundtrack and—above all—its story. So what are his five favorite movies?

Down by Law (1986)
directed by Jim Jarmusch

In Down by Law, Zack (Tom Waits) and Jack (John Lurie) are wrongfully imprisoned and thrown in a cell with the mentally-unstable Bob (Roberto Benigni). The three men bond as they live life on the lam following their prison escape. According to Edison, Down by Law’s strength lies in its simplicity as a character-driven drama that explores the relationship between its three protagonists. The film’s soundtrack, courtesy of Waits with jazz arrangements by Lurie, provides the perfect ambiance. “And Tom Waits plays a disc jockey, which is near and dear to my heart,” says Edison, who is a radio traffic reporter in his native Connecticut.

Goodfellas (1990)
directed by Martin Scorsese

“Love me some Goodfellas,” says Edison. One of Scorsese’s many masterpieces, the movie follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he and his small-time gangster friends climb the ranks in the mob. Edison appreciates the movie’s darkly humorous, extremely quotable dialogue (“What do you mean I’m funny?… Funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown?”). “They made some really smart choices in that film,” says Edison. “The music really works, it helps you get into the time periods [from the ’50s to the ’70s].” As Edison can’t comment an actor’s body language or physical performance, he relies on the tone, inflection and sincerity in an actor’s voice; Edison notes the quality of the performances of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (who who an Oscar for his role as the mobster Tommy DeVito) as particular cinematic standouts.

American Beauty (1999)
directed by Sam Mendes

In American Beauty, the Burnhams are an upper-middle class family whose seemingly perfect existence is anything but ideal. Lester (Kevin Spacey), trapped in a loveless marriage with an adulterous wife (Annette Bening), goes into mid-life crisis mode in a big way. He quits his job and becomes obsessed with Angela (Mena Suvari), the best friend of his teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Meanwhile Jane, whom Lester barely speaks to, strikes up a friendship with the drug dealer living next door. “This film has great twists and turns and incredible performances all the way around,” says Edison.

Nurse Betty (2000)
directed by Neil LaBute

The titular character in this comedy, directed by acclaimed playwright LaBute, is Betty Sizemore (Renée Zellweger), a delusional woman who believes that her favorite soap opera is real. As an unabashed fan of “All My Children,” Edison has a fondness for Nurse Betty, though he admits that he didn’t become a fan until his second viewing. “A friend recommended that I watch it again. I went to it a second time and thought, ‘Oh my god, this is one of the funniest things ever!’”

Crash (2004)
directed by Paul Haggis

“Admittedly, I needed some help with this film because it jumps around,” says Edison. “But I really enjoyed it.” The film, with its large ensemble cast and interwoven plotlines, tackles issues of race and class in a way that Edison finds intriguing. “The great thing about Crash is that when you come out of it, you’re talking about it. It makes you think, which is marvelous.” The Academy liked Crash as well, honoring it with Oscars for Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Editing.

In addition to reviewing movies, Edison would like to make a documentary about how he functions in his daily life without sight. For more information on Edison, and to watch episodes of Blind Film Critic, visit blindfilmcritic.com.

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