The Sound of Movies

from PHCC Perspective Winter 2011

“Jay Forry has reviewed hundreds of movies, but he has never seen one,” talk show host Jimmy Kimmel quipped as he welcomed PHCC’s famous alum to his live show in July (at right). Jay is the world’s premier blind movie critic. As far as anyone knows, he is one of only two sightless film reviewers in the world.

Far from being sensitive about his disability, the good-natured 53-year-old bantered easily with the popular late-night TV talk show host. “That movie was so bad, if I could have found the door to the theater I would have left,” said Jay, joking with Jimmy Kimmel about a box office bomb.

When Jay commented that Kimmel probably had not seen a movie recently reviewed on his radio program, “Blindside,” Kimmel quickly cracked, “Well, neither have you!”

In fact, Jay’s appreciation for cinema didn’t dim with his sight, lost 23 years ago to diabetes. At the onset of his blindness, Jay was a tough, hard-working, 27-year-old foreman of a crew of steel workers. In addition to facing sightlessness, Jay’s kidney was failing after years of dialysis and a transplant was imminent. A doctor told Jay and his wife, Dorothy, still newlyweds, to prepare for the worst. Handling just one life changing health crisis would send most people into a tailspin of despair, but Jay remained confident in his ability to cope. The unwavering love of his brave bride and his young son, Tim, was the support he needed as he adjusted.

“I could not have attended college without Dorothy, especially in the beginning. She more or less tutored me through it,” Jay said of his wife of 28 years. “She’s always there to help, and she always gives 100 percent.”

“It was not an effort,” said Dorothy, who went on to earn three master’s degrees and now works as an advisory teacher at the Florida Connections Academy. “Whether it is Jay, our son Tim, or my students, the most I can do is try to help others,” she said. Dorothy often is asked about why she stayed with Jay all these years, and her response is simple and astute. “I didn’t marry him because he could see me. I married him for who he is. I took vows and made a commitment. Life is life. It’s who you go through it with.”

But Jay also learned to lean on himself and others while regaining his self-sufficiency and strength.

A rehabilitation counselor, Tony Ames, suggested that Jay investigate options at Pasco-Hernando Community College. “Attending PHCC was like walking into the arms of a large, extended, caring family,” he said. “The faculty, staff and my classmates encouraged and assisted me. I was accepted and felt loved.”

Encouraged to write for the PHCC News, Jay jokingly suggested he become a movie critic and was both touched and surprised when a student editor and PHCC staff agreed. He honed movie critiquing and writing skills via his bimonthly column “Blindside.” While at PHCC, Jay thrived, winning a bid for Student Government vice president with the slogan “Vote for Jay—He has Vision.” Jay immersed himself in the PHCC experience, assuming leadership roles in student organizations and volunteering for college-supported activities and service projects.

Professor Connie LaMarca-Frankel, pictured below, with the Forrys in 1994, has taught humanities at PHCC for 23 years. She was one of Jay and Dorothy’s first instructors. “I learned so much from them…it was a very positive experience,” she said. “Jay never let his lack of sight get in the way. It simply was not an issue for him… nothing was impossible.”

Jay transitioned from PHCC to the University of South Florida in Tampa, giving up “Blindside” temporarily to concentrate on his studies in social work. He graduated magna cum laude in 1997. His column, and the honors he claimed at both PHCC and at USF, however, did not go unnoticed by the local media.

His unusual reviews grew in sophistication even as he continued to rely on Dorothy and friends to offer visual summaries of movies. “Jay reveals amazing perception,” a fan commented. “He perceives elements that most of us miss because we are distracted by visual effects. Jay notes the nuances.”

In fact, scriptwriters express ideas through dialogue, on which all other elements of movie-making are built. Music and sound effects often are not consciously noted by typical audiences. Jay absorbs movies with heightened sensitivity to auditory cues that forewarn disaster or provide a background for levity, drama, suspense or romance. As credits roll, typical moviegoers can’t recall soundtracks and other auditory elements carefully woven through films. Jay easily isolates turning points in plot and ties music and sound effects to key scenes.

Charming, humorous and prolific, Jay gained wide popularity on the local talk show circuit and was featured in newspaper articles. Soon his “Blindside” column was picked up by multiple local papers, which then drew media interest across the nation and beyond.

All along, Jay kept his PHCC family of supporters apprised of his career. Whenever Jay appears on local talk shows, administrators notify the staff. “During interviews, I felt my friends at PHCC cheering me on, “Jay said. “I could never see them, but I always sensed their support.”

Jay worked part-time counseling troubled youths, tapping into his social work degree and engaging others with his positive attitude and warm personality. He connects easil with others, including disabled children. “The kids have problems, I have problems,” he commented. “They’ve seen me accomplish what seems impossible, beating incredible odds.” Though Jay lost his counseling position to budget cuts, he continues to employ a stand up comic’s style in speaking engagements, works with disabled youth and adults, and frequents the local radio and TV talk show circuit. He encourages everyone, regardless of perceived limitations, to pursue opportunities through higher education. He continues to critique at least two, and sometimes as many as four, movies a week on “Blindside,” now a radio program broadcast internationally, and participates in reviewing movies for the popular Critic’s Choice Awards.

Jay is a devoted advocate for community colleges, reserving a special place in his heart for PHCC. It was never more evident than when he expressed his appreciation to Pasco-Hernando Community College from Hollywood on Jimmy Kimmel Live. PHCC students and staff alike were thrilled.

Jay never has failed to express his gratitude to PHCC. “My story is undeniably unique,” Jay explained. “Blindness is not a blessing,
but I have worked hard to positively influence people with my story. The support provided by PHCC was so pivotal; I don’t believe I could have found such encouragement anywhere else.”

Jay Forry

A Conversation with Jay

Those who meet him for the first time wonder “How does he do it?”

Those who know him ask “What else has he done?”
And those who know him well are waiting to learn “What will he do next?”

But everyone who encounters Jay Forry, husband, father, PHCC alum and the world’s most famous blind movie critic, agrees on this point: He is a force of
nature and testament to how attitude, education and determination can conquer adversity.

Jay granted Perspective a series of interviews to find out more about the man behind the critic.

Q: What was Florida like when you moved from Pennsylvania in 1964?

A: We moved to Temple Terrace first and then to Wesley
Chapel in 1969. I’m the oldest of four brothers. We lived on
seven acres and I went to Zephyrhills High School. We raised
everything: steers, milk cows, heifers, pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats.
We were in 4-H and FFA and competed at the county fair. I
was diagnosed with Type A diabetes about that time.

Q: What did you do after high school?

A: My dad was a carpenter. I went to work for him and
eventually became a steel construction crew foreman. I held
that job for 10 years, married and had a son before I lost my
sight at age 27.

Q: How did that come about?

A: There came a point where I could no longer read construction
blueprints. I had diabetic retinopathy and lost my sight in
about a year-and-a-half. My kidney failed a couple of years later.

Q: How did you cope?

A: I never experienced anger, denial or depression. I had a
great support system between family and church. The key was
always staying busy.

Q: And that’s when you decided to enroll at PHCC?

A: A great counselor from the Division of Blind Services, Tony
Ames, asked if I would like to go to college. I think I was the
first blind person to enroll at PHCC. It was 1991 and pre-ADA
(federal Americans with Disabilities Act). My wife was an
insurance agent and took a leave of absence to help me.

Q: How was your PHCC experience?

A: I only took two classes my first semester. I studied very hard
and got a D on my first test. I thought about quitting. But Professor
Larry Eason talked me out of it. I got three As on my next
tests and wound up with a B for the class. I never looked back.
I would have really struggled going to another college. At PHCC
the classes weren’t so big and it was so much more about the
student. (Everyone) was interested in helping me. It was not
easy in the beginning and I was very worried. But the instructors
were fantastic. Earning my associate’s degree at PHCC was
even a bigger deal than getting my bachelor’s degree at (the
University of South Florida).

Q: We know the story about how your career as a movie
critic at PHCC’s student newspaper began on a lark, but
now you’ve parlayed that into a professional career.
What’s your secret to success?

A: I do a lot of research before I go into the theater. I know
what the setting is, who the actors are, when it takes place,
and what’s going on. I don’t go in blind.

Q: You’ve had many articles written about you. You’re on
dozens of radio stations. You’ve been on national TV. Do
you feel like a celebrity?

A: I honestly don’t. I did have a lady at Perkins Restaurant
recognize me by my laugh one time. And after I did Jimmy
Kimmel’s show, I was at a Rays’ game and someone made
the connection.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I like to take risks—to a point. Since I have been blind, I
have snow skied, water skied, white water rafted, golfed and
driven ATVs. My son is in the Army and has his jump wings. I
can’t let him out do me, so I want to parachute at least once.

Q: What about less risky pastimes?

A: I love audio books, eating out at restaurants and going to
movies—it’s a hobby, as well as a profession.

Q: What’s the best advice you received?

A: Long ago I read a quote by Chuck Swindoll: “Life is 10
percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to
it.” Although I may not be able to change my situation, I can
change my attitude. One day I would like to write a book about
my life. The title would be Attitude is Everything.

Q: What advice would you give to beginning students?

A: When you get to college, take advantage of all the extracurricular
activities you can. Always do the best with what life
hands you—it shows the kind of person you are.