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Second Sight: How Channel-Surfing, an iPod, and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED Restored a Movie Critic's Eyesight

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by Aaron Aradillas
April 1, 2014 1:50 PM
3 Comments
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screening room


The comfort you find in routine can, at times, be overwhelming. You turn on your computer for the first time in weeks to check your e-mail. You have hundreds of unopened e-mails in your inbox, but it’s one of the most recent ones that catches your eye. It’s an invitation to a promotional screening. You haven’t been to a movie, let alone a promo screening, since mid-December. You accept the invitation, explaining to the PR person why you’ve been dormant for the last seven weeks. You get dressed for the first time where the destination isn’t a doctor’s office. The ride in the car is mostly quiet, the radio providing most of the entertainment. Certain turns on the highway seem familiar. Yes, we turn right, then left, then right again. You walk into the theater and the sound of people rushing to the concession stand or their assigned auditorium washes over you. You remember that most promo screenings are either in screen 9 or 8, and without missing a beat, the ticket-taker says your screening is in screen 8. Your party gets allowed in first, annoying the people still waiting to be let in. (Ahh, the perks of being with the press.) You walk down to the very front row and take a seat. The screen is huge. You had forgotten how big the screen was. You wonder how much will you see? Will it be better than before? The lights go down and, for a brief moment, you panic. Darkness is something you’ve come to associate with dread, not joy.

I have a friend who rejects the notion of using New Year’s as some kind of line of demarcation. You don’t need the start of a new calendar year to start over. Every day provides an opportunity to start anew. This sounds perfectly reasonable, but I confess the events of this past New Year’s Eve led me to believe that only ominous things lay ahead for me. I was in my home office, catching up on end-of-the-year reading, thinking about my year-end top 10 list, and generally taking it easy. I was really procrastinating because I had a couple of deadlines hanging over me. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street had just come out and I was starting to gather my thoughts on a piece about Scorsese being a director of comedy. I had just spent the last couple of weeks watching every Scorsese movie in chronological order, which is something I do every time a new Scorsese movie comes out. It was seeing GoodFellas at age 11 that made me want to be a critic. I was always a rabid watcher of television and movies, but Goodfellas was the first movie where I knew I had seen something different. I became obsessed with every facet of the movie. I went out and bought the soundtrack on cassette (!), which began my lifelong obsession with pop music. I also studied the evolution of gangster movies, as 1990 saw the release of Dick Tracy, King of New York, Miller’s Crossing, and The Godfather Part III. (To this day my two favorite movie genres are Gangster and Musical.) I talked and wrote about the movie constantly. I knew I was still too young to fully comprehend its themes of Catholic guilt and loyalty, but I kept trying to figure them out. (I’m still trying.) I soon realized that criticism, be it of movies, music, television, literature or any other form of entertainment, allows you to work through your emotional responses to what you experienced, and by doing so you are bringing into focus the reader’s own emotional responses. It was through critical writing that I was able to see the world more clearly. I chose to be a movie critic instead of a music critic because movies got to me first. As I arrived at this choice, I never really dwelled on the inherent contradiction of being a blind movie critic. (To be completely accurate, I was born blind, but through numerous operations as a child, I now have extremely limited eyesight.) I guess the sight of seeing someone walk into a theater with a white cane in one hand and a movie ticket in the other is a little …odd? The inability to register how others see you can be both a blessing and a burden.  

I was also applying to journalism graduate school with the intent to concentrate on criticism. The deadline was January 4th, and all I needed to do was write a couple of essays. It was 5:30pm, and I just opened my Word document to hammer out one of the essays. I got up and went to the kitchen to get a drink of water and talk to my sister-in-law. I was away from my computer screen for no more than 15 minutes, but when I returned the text of the Word document was all blurry. I couldn’t read a thing. I thought maybe it was my monitor. I turned to the CCTV I have on my desk. (A CCTV is a large monitor with a camera shoved up its midsection that allows me to place any kind of written materials on a tray in order to magnify it for reading.) I had just received the Criterion Blu-ray of Michael Mann’s Thief and it was still sitting underneath the monitor. I turned on the CCTV and flipped over the Blu-ray so I could read the text on the back cover. No luck. Concern, not panic, washed over me. Maybe I was just overworked. I informed my brother of this development and we agreed that I should shut things down and rest. Seeing as all my doctors are in Houston and I live in San Antonio (and going to an ER on New Year’s Eve held zero appeal), I hoped things would improve in the morning.

Morning came and there was no improvement. Everything was a blur. I could tell if there was light but not much else. When I looked at the Christmas tree all the lights were just one blurry glob. The blinking red star atop the tree became a blinking red splash of color. I called the on-call doctor in Houston and she offered to open the office if my brother and I were willing to make the trek. We put our heads together and decided it was necessary to make the trip. We figured the problem was one of three things: 1.) my eye pressure had gone way up, 2.) my cornea was rejecting, or 3.) my retina had detached. We took comfort in the fact that all three of these things could be treated. (As it turned out, we were wrong. )

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3 Comments

  • Mike De Luca | April 2, 2014 7:02 PMReply

    I'm thinking of "The Right Stuff" and Fred Ward pumping his fist in the air, shouting,
    "Go, hot dog, GO!"

  • Drew | April 2, 2014 3:21 PMReply

    Great piece. Hang in there, Aaron. Back by Midnight is still my favorite film podcast to listen to.

  • Craig Simpson | April 1, 2014 2:31 PMReply

    Although, as in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (which you perceptively referenced), we all learn as we get older to settle for imperfection, this piece is sublime - much better than a 5/10.

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