“I think the unsung hero in this movie is the writing and editing. They tell this story in such a way that you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know where you’ve been, but it really keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
That’s Tommy Edison reviewing the film Memento — the famously complex breakout debut of Christopher Nolan — in which the entire story is told backwards. It is a film that challenges even the most focused audiences. What makes Edison’s review noteworthy is the fact that he is blind, only able to perceive changes in light intensity.
Known as the Blind Film Critic, Edison was born with an underdeveloped optic nerve, though his blindness has never been a matter of concern to him. Before becoming a film critic, he worked as a radio traffic reporter in Bridgeport, Connecticut, by listening to police scanners. Then, prompted by a barroom goof in 2011, he decided to review the film Scream 4 and post it to YouTube. Shortly afterwards, it was tweeted by Roger Ebert.
Watching Edison’s reviews, it’s impressive how perceptive he’s able to be, producing surprisingly well-rounded critiques. In reviewing Star Trek: Beyond, he focuses on the performances of each actor, going so far as to say, “I felt like Simon Pegg played himself, but I really enjoyed every time he was on screen. He always had a good line.”
The one thing that I think is so funny is that people that I’ve known for my entire life have never asked me the questions that people ask me on YouTube.
Thirteen million views in, Edison has become a figurehead of the community and is a frequent speaker at events around the globe. He launched a second YouTube channel, The Tommy Edison Experience, with a focus on addressing the misconceptions about blindness, mediating the uncomfortable and awkward with humourous anecdotes and observations. It’s become a fertile forum for advocacy and resistance to socially imposed stereotypes, each question and answer reconceptualizing what it’s like to live with a perceived disability.
“The one thing that I think is so funny is that people that I’ve known for my entire life have never asked me the questions that people ask me on YouTube … If I say something’s off limits, then all of a sudden, people are going to start to be afraid. If people can’t ask, they can’t learn.”
While it might seem novel for someone without the use of sight to review film, Edison is a reminder that an experience can be perceived in countless different ways, and that each is just as valid.
Next time you’re watching Goodfellas, one of Edison’s favourites, consider starting the movie with your eyes closed — hear the vibrato of Tony Bennett fading in, underneath, the smooth warmth of a brass band, and then the gravely, low voice of Ray Liotta speaks: “To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.”