With Captions

I miss gainful employment, music, and going to the movies. I got hooked on movies in the 7th grade at Clark Howell Elementary School, formerly on 10th St between Juniper and Piedmont, now the site of a City of Atlanta fire station. Clark Howell Elementary housed the Atlanta Public Schools film library. An audio-visual license available to 7th grade boys entitled the holder to operate the 16mm Bell and Howell projector, a certified accomplishment, status of seniority and acquired skill. I showed individual classrooms as well as assemblies of the entire school films like The Last of the Mohicans starring Randolph Scott as Hawkeye, John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln with Henry Fonda, and Les Miserables with Frederic March as Jean Valjean and Charles Laughton, unforgettable as Inspector Javert.

For the next 50 years after the 7th grade, I took the enjoyment of movies for granted, like breathing in and out or the beating of my heart. Then I lost my hearing, 100% in both ears, due to meningitis in 2006. I have had to make do with foreign language films, captioned in English, and the slim pickings from chain theaters of Hollywood releases with captions for the hearing impaired. Yes, I saw the 2012 Oscar winner The Artist, the most successful silent movie since The Jazz Singer made Al Jolson a star in 1927.

Movie captioning at a theater near you has lagged behind television and DVD rentals. Captions for the hearing impaired have been in three varieties. Closed captions—white letters on a black rectangle, covering part of the movie screen. Open captions—letters superimposed directly across the movie scene, unreadable without proper contrast. Rear Window—a clumsy contraption like a goose-neck lamp that sits in the cup holder of the theater seat and is like watching the movie in the rear view mirror of your car parked backwards at the drive-in.

Recently Regal Cinemas of Knoxville, Tn., and Sony electronics of California and other Pacific Ocean locations have introduced a new technology that makes movies accessible again for me and others who are hearing impaired, statistically 10 percent of the population. The new Sony technology transmits the captions wirelessly for holographic display right on the lenses of special glasses, not on the movie screen. The Sony Entertainment Access Glasses may be worn over any eyewear already used by the moviegoer. Since the captions do not appear on the screen, other movie customers do not experience any distraction of captions. Descriptive audio is also provided through the wireless receiver and can be accessed by connection of an assistive neck-loop, compatible with some hearing aids, or headphones, for movie patrons who have low vision or are blind.

Here’s a youtube video demonstration. With captions.

Until now, the number of movies at the multi-plex shown with any form of captions has been limited to just enough to side-step Americans With Disabilities Act litigation, no more than three or four films, even in large metropolitan areas like Atlanta, and showings were often scheduled for some off-peak time, mid-week, mid-day, like Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. As I write this, the weekly listing by the captioned movies search engine Captionfish found the following captioned features scheduled multiple times daily, including weekends, at 10 theaters within 60 miles of my home in DeKalb County, Georgia:

Alex Cross, Argo, Cloud Atlas, Flight, Fun Size, Here Comes the Boom, Hotel Transylvania, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Looper, Paranormal Activity 4, ParaNorman, Pitch Perfect, Red Dawn, Rise of the Guardians, Sinister, Skyfall, Taken 2, The Man with the Iron Fists, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Silver Linings, Playbook. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2, Wreck-It Ralph.

A significant increase over the past. Pardon my understatement. Regal Cinemas currently offers the largest share of these captioned showings. Within a month, I have seen The Master in Snellville and Lincoln at Atlantic Station, doubling my movie attendance for the year to date.

Currently 200 Regal theaters nationwide offer the Sony Entertainment Access System, which is expected to be in all of Regal’s digital cinemas by April. Regal Entertainment Group operates 6,597 screens at 522 locations in 37 states and the District of Columbia. “We are encouraged by the positive feedback already received regarding the new technology,” Regal said.

Modern multi-plex movie theater projection booths no longer resemble your father’s Last Picture Show, no metal reels of sprocket-fed celluloid. Each digital movie is contained on a hard-disk, ready to be connected to a digital projector, which is controlled by a central computer. Maybe another name will evolve for these electronic optical illusions rather than film or movies. It is still hard to beat the oldest: magic lanterns. Also connected to the digital projector is a transmitter that produces the wireless signal for the Sony Entertainment Access Glasses.

Introducing new technology may be a bumpy road. Suggestion: Give yourself some extra time when you arrive at the theater. Let the customer service manager demonstrate the glasses. Read the instructions before you take your seat and the movie begins. For a preview of the illustrated instructions provided by Regal, click here. I intend to print them out and bring them with me from now on every time I go to the movies.

A Regal spokesman acknowledges “the many years of aid, insight and support provided by advocates within the deaf, hard of hearing, blind and low vision communities,” including Riverside, CA’s Model Deaf Community, American Council of the Blind, City of La Verne Inclusion Advisory Committee, Hearing Loss Association of America, Metropolitan Nashville Mayor’s Advisory Committee, California School for the Deaf, Mid Tennessee Council of the Blind, multiple local disability resource centers, and Captionfish.

Fellow clients of the Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired, which provides my Captel caption telephone, share stories of their experiences at restaurants (don’t even try the drive-thru), banks (use the debit card machine), and retailers that all too often register on a scale between insensitive and insulting. The manager of a major home improvement store in Atlanta said to me, “Sir, don’t raise your voice. I’m not deaf.”

I removed the external device of my cochlear implant from behind my ear and held it out to him in the open palm of my hand. “I am,” I said.

Photo of 16mm projector courtesy of Bell and Howell. All other photos courtesy of Regal Cinemas.
William Cotter

William Cotter

I actually remember when THE ATLANTA JOURNAL claimed it "Covers Dixie Like the Dew," because 50 years ago, when I graduated from high school, I landed my first full-time job there as a copy boy. Thanks to city editor Harold E. Davis, I was promoted to city desk clerk, then later became the youngest of his young reporters, when they were still located at 10 Forsyth St., next to the train station (have I preceded your memory yet?). Before I left journalism in the 1970's to try and earn a living, I also had worked for THE DAILY JOURNAL of Elizabeth, N.J., had been a stringer for NEWSWEEK, and had written articles for Atlanta weeklies CREATIVE LOAFING and THE ATLANTA GAZETTE. In 2006, I was hospitalized with meningitis, three weeks in a coma, waking up with 100 percent hearing loss in both ears. I received a cochlear implant, which provides me a miraculous electronic approximation of hearing, although everybody sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks announcing the subway stops at the Atlanta Airport. After I was discharged from the hospital, I began to write a blog to see if anything about my brain still worked and if I could still type. In addition to my own blog COTTER PEN, I have been a contributor to the arts blog SOUTHERN CREATIVITY and helped design and launch other blogs about writers and artists.