Deaf Cinema: Background information when reading Wonderstruck

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Wonderstruck

by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
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    Sep 2011, 608 pages

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Amy Reading

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Beyond the Book:
Deaf Cinema

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Brian Selznick has said that one of his inspirations for Wonderstruck was the documentary Through Deaf Eyes, and the knowledge that the transition from silent movies to "talkies" was disastrous for deaf people. Cinema had been a way for deaf people to record their stories in sign language, as well as participate in mass culture through  a shared visual medium. It gave deaf actors the opportunity to play both deaf and hearing characters. The Jazz Singer changed all of that in 1927. It was the first feature film with dialogue and singing synchronized with the action. By 1929, the transition to sound was mostly complete. Despite activism by the National Association for the Deaf, the Motion Picture Association of America does not require captioning for mainstream movies in theaters.

Deaf cinema - the definition of which is controversial but, in essence, encompasses films intended for a deaf audience - has continued as a small subculture with its own visual vocabulary for transferring sign language and deaf experiences into film. There is a small body of movies that communicate entirely in American Sign Language, beginning with Peter Wolf's work in the 1970s: Deafula (1975), Think Me Nothing (1975) and I Love You, But (1998); and continuing up to the present day with Universal Signs (2008). A complete list of films that qualify as deaf cinema, including shorts, documentaries, and film festivals, can be found here.

This article is from the September 21, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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