Journal Title: Wide Screen
Vol. 9, No.1, July 2022
Abstract: Peter Wechsberg’s Deafula (1975) marks one of the few fully accessible movies for deaf and hard of hearing audiences produced in the decades between the industry’s shift to talkies and the emergence of video- and digital film production. Following the film’s initial theater run across the U.S. and Canada, Deafula’s viewership shifted from deaf audiences to cult movie enthusiasts. This new and notably mostly hearing spectatorship took the film’s alleged limitations—its low-budget aesthetics and origin in the deaf community whose cultural habits were
unfamiliar or seemed obscure—as either a cult asset or an invitation to mockery. This essay presents a comparative analysis of Deafula’s initial exhibition records vis-à-vis the discourse surrounding the film’s later circulation in hearing cult film communities. Focusing on this involuntary change in primary audiences, I posit the film’s implementation of classic horror tropes within a primarily deaf screen world as the dominant force behind hearing viewers’ interest in it. Moreover, I explore the importance of Deafula’s cinematography, voice dubbing, and sign language use for its subsequent acceptance into the cult film circuit, and the cultural, political and
aesthetic discrepancies that arose with such transition. To this end, this essay contributes to a differentiated understanding of the ways Deafula’s circulation—both authorized and unauthorized in this case—has facilitated exchanges between deaf and hearing film cultures.