Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Library/ASL movies

One of my summer projects was taking an online American Sign Language (ASL) course for librarians. As a result I've been doing a bit a research into deaf culture and learned about the book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language. I also found out about the 1986 movie Children of a Lesser God and was reminded of an old favorite from my high school days - Voices. Finishing the course coincided with a visit from my Wisconsin cousin with whom I share an affinity for Voices (we must have watched it together half a dozen times on HBO during the summer of 1980). She has also taken, and taught some ASL courses. Given all this, we really had no choice but to watch Voices again. We had to purchase a copy of the DVD as it is not available on Netflix, or Amazon streaming (my go-to places for movies).

Voices stars Michael Ontkean as Drew Rothman, a musician who falls in love with (or in '70s vernacular "really digs") Rosemarie Lemon (Amy Irving) a beautiful deaf dance teacher. While not a comedy, my cousin and I laughed all the way through this, wondering why our teenage selves thought this was such a great film. Ontkean does his own singing, and he really isn't very good. The story is also a bit melodramatic. I told my cousin watching Ontkean in this venue was like seeing Greg Brady as a college graduate. Irving did an admirable job playing Lemon, at least she was challenging herself in the role. There is one scene in a library where, strangely enough, Rosemarie teaches her dance classes. Drew also checks a book on ASL out of the library.

Children of a Lesser God stars William Hurt as James Leeds and Marlee Matlin as Sarah Norman. Like Voices the story is of a hearing man who falls in love with a deaf woman and believes she can be more than she is. In this case Norman is a janitor at a deaf school and Leeds thinks that if she would just learn to read lips and use her voice all kinds of new opportunities would open up for her.  It is in the school library that Norman explains her rather sordid sexual history to Leeds. This one was made seven years after Voices, and the story is much the same. The acting is definitely better in this one than in Voices though, and Matlin plays a much stronger character than Irving does. I am sure they were both breakthrough films in their time, but they seem quite dated now.

1 comment:

  1. Good review of two interesting films that are indeed dated in many ways. Very little notice is made -- especially in the earlier film -- of deaf communities.
    A NY Times review of "Voices" puts it in the context of an unfortunate slew of films in which ableism intersects with sexism.