ON HAND: Deafula

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

I first saw DEAFULA in the mid-1990s, and for the next 10 years, I searched high and low for a copy of the movie. A couple of weeks ago, a friend finally found it on a website that specialized in hard-to-find movies–and I was thrilled. I quickly ordered it.

As soon as I got the DVD, I sat down to watch it. I was once again transported into the 1974 movie’s cheesy and hilarious dialogue. The movie, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, is done entirely in sign language with voice-overs. The lead character, Steve Adams/Deafula, is played by the movie’s producer, Peter Wolf (Wechsberg), who went on to produce movies like THINK ME NOTHING and I LOVE YOU, BUT. . .

Although the costumes were a bit tacky (Deafula had an unrealistically huge nose), and the dialogue made me roll my eyes sometimes, I was captivated by the eloquent sign language. Even though it was easy to identify which actors were hearing and which were deaf, the signing was something I seem to only see in films from the 1970s. I’m not quite sure what it is, but the signing from these days just seems different.

In fact, I have some footage of my dad as a high school student at the North Carolina School for the Deaf during the late 1960s. Students who are now in their 50s are seen signing the Pledge of Allegiance, Star-Spangled Banner, and poems. I also have other footage of my parents as twenty-somethings (were they ever really that young?!), signing on camera.

One thing is common among my parents, the students, and the DEAFULA signers: they all signed with their mouths shut. I don’t know if this is what made their signing seem unique, especially since many signed in English order. Yet their signing seemed like beautifully executed ASL (except for Amy in DEAFULA, who signed “W” for wonder and “H” for help). Sometimes the signing did seem unnatural, especially when there were no mouth movements that are customary for specific signs. Perhaps this was because they were being filmed, but their signs still seemed expressive.

As I chatted with people about the movie, I remembered so many signs I used as a child that I don’t use anymore: the “don’t” or “not” sign with both hands down by my stomach, as if gesturing “safe” in baseball; wiggling my fingers for “brown” (instead of the B-on-cheek I now use); and many others. I’m not sure why I stopped using these signs–gradual evolution of the language, I suppose. We also use mouth movements much more today. I don’t know if this is good or not.

But boy, is DEAFULA a great blast into the past. Watch it to gain some insight on how far we’ve come in filmmaking and ASL. You won’t be disappointed.

Copyrighted material. This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the express written consent of the author.

This article originally appeared in The Tactile Mind on May 5, 2004.

I first saw DEAFULA in the mid-1990s, and for the next 10 years, I searched high and low for a copy of the movie. A couple of weeks ago, a friend finally found it on a website that specialized in hard-to-find movies–and I was thrilled. I quickly ordered it.

As soon as I got the DVD, I sat down to watch it. I was once again transported into the 1974 movie’s cheesy and hilarious dialogue. The movie, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, is done entirely in sign language with voice-overs. The lead character, Steve Adams/Deafula, is played by the movie’s producer, Peter Wolf (Wechsberg), who went on to produce movies like THINK ME NOTHING and I LOVE YOU, BUT. . .

Although the costumes were a bit tacky (Deafula had an unrealistically huge nose), and the dialogue made me roll my eyes sometimes, I was captivated by the eloquent sign language. Even though it was easy to identify which actors were hearing and which were deaf, the signing was something I seem to only see in films from the 1970s. I’m not quite sure what it is, but the signing from these days just seems different.

In fact, I have some footage of my dad as a high school student at the North Carolina School for the Deaf during the late 1960s. Students who are now in their 50s are seen signing the Pledge of Allegiance, Star-Spangled Banner, and poems. I also have other footage of my parents as twenty-somethings (were they ever really that young?!), signing on camera.

One thing is common among my parents, the students, and the DEAFULA signers: they all signed with their mouths shut. I don’t know if this is what made their signing seem unique, especially since many signed in English order. Yet their signing seemed like beautifully executed ASL (except for Amy in DEAFULA, who signed “W” for wonder and “H” for help). Sometimes the signing did seem unnatural, especially when there were no mouth movements that are customary for specific signs. Perhaps this was because they were being filmed, but their signs still seemed expressive.

As I chatted with people about the movie, I remembered so many signs I used as a child that I don’t use anymore: the “don’t” or “not” sign with both hands down by my stomach, as if gesturing “safe” in baseball; wiggling my fingers for “brown” (instead of the B-on-cheek I now use); and many others. I’m not sure why I stopped using these signs–gradual evolution of the language, I suppose. We also use mouth movements much more today. I don’t know if this is good or not.

But boy, is DEAFULA a great blast into the past. Watch it to gain some insight on how far we’ve come in filmmaking and ASL. You won’t be disappointed.

Copyrighted material. This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the written consent of the author.

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