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Movie Review

Deafness Issues Intensify 'Sound and Fury'

November 17, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Josh Aronson's "Sound and Fury," as illuminating and comprehensive as it is heart-wrenching, is an example of what the documentary can accomplish at its most vital and engaging. There is such a sense of immediacy to the film that it is as if we are watching life unfolding before our very eyes. In a way we are, for Aronson and his associates spent a year and a half recording the lives of the extended Artinian family as it undergoes a crisis that will tear it apart.

Peter and Chris Artinian are brothers, family men in their 30s who live near each other and their parents on Long Island. Peter; his wife, Nita; their bright 6-year-old daughter, Heather; and their two infant sons are all deaf. Chris, like his parents, has normal hearing, as do his wife, Mari, and their eldest child. But one of their twin baby sons, Peter III, is deaf, as are Mari's parents.

Chris and Mari are eager to have little Peter undergo a cochlear implant as soon as possible, because this relatively new device is more effective the earlier the child receives it. Meanwhile, Heather--who signs, as do all the Artinians, deaf or not--says that she would like to have a cochlear implant so she can communicate better with her playmates who have normal hearing. Her parents, while wary, initially are open-minded about the procedure, with Nita going so far as to investigate undergoing the procedure herself, until she learns that her age works against her.

The more Nita and Peter investigate a cochlear implant for Heather, the more defensive they become. They fear losing her to the world of normal hearing; they feel that those with normal hearing fail to respect deaf culture and consider the deaf and especially their education to be inferior and their opportunities limited.

The flash point occurs when they learn from a mother with normal hearing whose daughter has adjusted well to a cochlear implant, that Heather will be encouraged not to use sign language for fear that it will become too much of a crutch for her. The woman speaks in a respectful manner but without realizing how devastating her words will be to Peter and Nita.

Their fears escalate to the extent that they end up moving to Frederick, Md., site of a 130-year-old school for the deaf and center of a large, closely knit deaf community. It doesn't look like Heather will be getting a cochlear implant any time in the near future.

Peter's parents, his mother especially, and sister-in-law Mari try mightily to get through to him and Nita in arguing that Heather, with her exceptional intelligence, will have a richer life with greater options with an implant--if it is done soon. They say early on they want Heather to move easily between the world of hearing and that of deafness, but are so soon in retreat that they fail to see Mari as a fine example of this, a woman with normal hearing who since infancy has communicated with her parents in sign language.

"Sound and Fury" has got to be a consciousness-raiser for one and all, but it has special meaning and impact for those of us who have firsthand experience with deafness in the family. The challenge "Sound and Fury" illuminates so thoroughly is for all the institutions and professionals involved in dealing with the hearing-impaired to join in creating a climate in which deaf parents can feel secure that permitting cochlear implants for their children does not mean that they will lose them.

"Sound and Fury" ends on an encouraging note: The National Assn. of the Deaf is reconsidering its negative stand on the implants.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: intense adult themes and situations.

'Sound and Fury'

An Artistic License Films release in association with Ronald Guttman and Nora Coblence. Director Josh Aronson. Producer Roger Weisberg. Coordinating producers Jackie Roth, Julie Sacks. Cinematographers Brian Danitz, Kenny Gronningsater, Mead Hunt, Gordy Waterman, Brett Wiley. Editor Ann Colling. Music Mark Suozzo. Voice-over casting Liz Lewis. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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