Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


Okay, it’s finally time to confess what some, if not both of you, probably already knew. I’m a fraud.

No, I’m not selling swamp real estate in Florida or hawking shares in a pyramid scheme. At least not in any way that bears on the discussion at hand. No, for the past year or two I have been fraudulently calling myself a film critic.

Okay, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. I mean, it’s not as though I have not gone to see any movies and I have just been making up my reviews out of thin air or copying them from other web sites. At least not in any way that can easily be proved. It’s just that, well, for a good while there I wasn’t the full shilling.

You see, film critics go on and on, writing about a movie’s “visuals” or the “visual texture of the cinematic canvas” or “the look of” a film or how a “frame is composed” or its “visual impact” or “visual style.” In other words, they tend to dwell quite a bit on how a movie looks to the eye.

Now, I have never really been a visual person by nature. I have always been more of a word or text kind of guy. I prefer written instructions for my new electronic gadgets, even if in 40 different languages, to those drawings and symbols that are meant to be universal and international. From an early age, I was always more interested in what actually happened in a movie, i.e. the plot development or narrative, than how the movie looked. In other words, I was nearly as well off to read the book as watch the movie.

Now, over time, I learned to appreciate the look of a movie: the color scheme, the placement of actors and props in a frame, the set design and art direction. It didn’t come naturally, but I made myself learn because I knew it was important. It is why we have movies at all, as opposed to filmed readings of novels. As I matured, I was satisfied with the way I had trained my eye to appreciate what most other people seem to do naturally. But then my eye, actually both of them, betrayed me.

The world, the real one I mean, was gradually becoming a darker place. The sunshine wasn’t as bright as it used to be. There always seemed to be clouds or haze in the sky. For a long time, I attributed this to my move to Ireland. While moving from Seattle to the Emerald Isle wasn’t exactly a huge a shift in climate, as my earlier move from central California to the Emerald City had been, Eire is just that much farther north and just that much more buffeted by storms, thanks to its location, exposed fully to the Atlantic Ocean. In the winter, the days are heartbreakingly brief and the nights seemingly endless. And the light bulbs seem to be glowing with just a bit less wattage than in other countries. So as the world grew darker for me, I cursed the Irish climate and dreamt of sand and palm trees on the Mediterranean or in my native California.

But with more time, it became impossible to escape the fact that something besides cloud cover and the height of the sun over the horizon was behind the gloom. Reading became more and more difficult. Small objects dropped on the floor disappeared into impenetrable shadow. Faraway objects were hidden by fog. I couldn’t easily count change handed to me in shops. I couldn’t be sure whether the silhouette I met in the shop was someone I knew or not—until it spoke. So, it was worse than I thought. Ireland had not merely gotten darker. It had made me old and blind.

Actually, I knew what was going on, although I was in denial. I had dim memories of it happening to my grandmother and clearer memories of it happening to my mother, my aunt and some of my uncles. A visit to my optometrist confirmed what I pretty much knew. I was developing sub-capsular cataracts. The optometrist described them in a very understandable manner. The lens of the eye is like the white of a raw egg, he said. It is transparent, which allows light to pass through and enables us to see. Developing a cataract is like frying the egg white: it turns white and opaque and becomes increasingly difficult and then impossible to see through. The surgeon I would later consult theorized that cataracts might have run in my mother’s family because her people were of northern European stock that spent generations in northern climes where, as I have well established, the sunlight is not nearly as strong and so were susceptible to the brighter, more direct sunlight in California. In other words, our eyes’ lenses may really have been fried by the sun, just like eggs in a skillet.

My optometrist gave me stronger glasses and told me to come back in a year—or sooner if my vision became worse. By the time the year was up, I knew all too well that I was seriously impaired. He told me what I already knew. It was time to see a consultant surgeon and without delay. The way things move in Ireland, it would be a few months at best before I could get the surgery done. By the time I had met with the surgeon, had a surgery date for the first eye scheduled and then had it canceled and then had it rescheduled, a couple of months had passed. By the time I had the first surgery, I had given up driving and was only making the effort to read (using a large magnifying glass) when it was extremely necessary or I was feeling very motivated.

But there were still a couple of visual pleasures left that I could enjoy. Thankfully, I could still watch television at home and movies in the cinema. I suppose it was because the screens in both cases are reflecting pure light. When sitting in front of the TV or the movie screen, I could pretend that I could see normally. And because movies were becoming more a refuge, I became even more appreciative of their visual qualities. Threatened with the possible loss of the visual aspect of cinema, I found it had become even more precious to me.

If watching a movie in the cinema put me on an equal footing with the unimpaired people around me, it also did so in another way. Because we were all sitting in the dark, the people around me were, in a way, visiting my world. Indeed, I started to feel like the Marvel superhero Daredevil, the fellow who was run over by a radioactive milk truck (or something) as a child and was left blind but with his other senses incredibly heightened plus an additional radar sense that allowed him to detect people and objects even though he couldn’t see them. I wasn’t particularly aware that my other four senses had been heightened, but I found that, out of necessity, I could make my way through the house in the dark of night without any lights on. I gradually trained myself to memorize where everything was, the distances between things and how to feel for things before stubbing a toe on them. I was getting a little taste of what life is like for blind people—although I never got to the point where I couldn’t see at all. Of course, things were not particularly helped by the Missus, whose reaction to my impairment was the same reaction she has to every situation she considers a crisis: to move all the furniture in the house around.

The haze that covered my world also made me feel like the Hobbit Frodo Baggins when he put on the ring he inherited from his uncle Bilbo. It wasn’t that I turned invisible as Frodo did, but that the world when shadowy for the ring’s wearer. I found myself looking around warily in case I should be surprised by one of the black riders.

When I got my first date for surgery, I knew that I had a decision to make. The Cork Film Festival was scheduled before the surgery. Would I attempt to travel to Cork on my own and spend a week feeling my way down the streets? If I did not go, it would be the first time in years that I would have missed it. But prudence suggested I might be better off giving it a miss for the year. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from the festival director himself asking if I was coming and offering me press credentials.

I began feeling my way through my drawers to find clean underwear so that I could pack my bag.

To be continued…

-S.L., 5 March 2009

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