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An Excellent Description of Audio Description

In a recent post at the Blind Spot Blog, Hannah Thompson provides an excellent and thoughtful description of her experience watching a film with audio description for the first time.

Thompson identifies three visual aspects of film that are conveyed through audio description and that, when conveyed, greatly enrich the experience of watching a film. I'll quote liberally below, but I urge you to read the entire post for yourself.

Firstly, the describer helpfully told me who people were. The first time a character appeared they were referred to in a gently informative way:  'a young man enters a crowded bar' or 'a tired-looking woman climbs the stairs'. So far so obvious. But on subsequent appearances the character was helpfully named and usefully situated: 'Duroy is sitting in Forestier's office', 'Clotilde is lying naked on the bed in the love nest'. This elegantly overcomes my biggest problem with film. Just as in real life, I struggle to recognise people when they reappear in a new or different context, especially if they have changed their clothes or hairstyle. Bel-Ami features an array of handsome men all dressed alike in the ubiquitous nineteenth-century French habit noir. Without a friendly voice whispering their names in my ear I would have spent the film failing to tell them apart.

Secondly, audio description is extremely good at drawing attention to apparently inconsequential details. Without it I would not have known that Clotilde likes to have a cherry in her drink or that Duroy wept when Forestier died. Audio description isn't necessarily about the big picture, and it doesn't have time to recount the truly insignificant, but it does linger on the details which are hard to see but which add depth and meaning to the film.

The third, and most enlightening benefit of audio description is much more subtle. I was struck by the fact that the describer always paid a great deal of attention to how people communicated wordlessly, particularly with their eyes: 'Duroy looks at Madeleine with a mixture of sorrow and resentment'; 'Clotilde's eyes flash with hatred and contempt'. I have never been very good at interpreting facial expressions and usually don't even bother trying. I judge people's mood by the sound of their voice and the way they behave. So I was amazed to discover how much facial expression can tell you about a person. I had no idea that facial expression was so important nor that people could pass messages in that way. I began to wonder how many silent conversations I had missed by not knowing that they were even going on in the first place.

As a huge fan of audio description—I will rarely watch television and film these days without it—I think Thompson has accurately identified and beautifully articulated the reasons why AD so greatly enhances the experience of watching television and film. It's also worth noting that, with the possible exception of the first aspect described, the identification of characters, these are details a person sitting next to you is unlikely to convey and that you are unlikely to be able to glean for yourself through deduction or inference.

 

Today was the first time I heard of this blog, which was only started last month. If you're at all interested in literature, film, photography, and representations of blindness, particularly, but not exclusively, in nineteenth century France, I highly recommend this blog. I've gone through every post so far and thoroughly enjoyed them all.

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.

Comments

Now if only I knew why they bothered to mention some of those "inconsequential details". Normally there's a reason for it, but I remember watching one movie where they went on and on about what was on a coffee table in the corner, notwithstanding that the colour of the flowers never became material.

But in all seriousness, I wish AD was more readily available. None of the theatres in Quebec have it. I'd bet that is because AD tracks are not available in French, and no business would dare to offer something in English without a French equivalent there.

And Regina, well... it's just not big enough, I guess.

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