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[whitespace] 'Sound and Fury' Hear Out: One-year-old Peter Artinian gained his sense of hearing with an implant operation that put his father and his uncle on opposite sides of a hotly contested issue.

Ear Shots

Family members take sides in a cultural debate in the documentary 'Sound and Fury'

By Richard von Busack

AT ITS HEART, the documentary Sound and Fury has a matter of big import: should a father should be allowed to make decisions for his daughter, even when the decision denies the child one of her five senses? Young Heather Artinian, a deaf 5-year-old from Long Island, was a perfect candidate for a cochlear implant that would allow her to hear. Her father, Peter, refused to allow the operation on a number of grounds, especially his contention that there's a rich heritage of deaf culture that his daughter would likely turn her back on if she had her sense of hearing. This unusual argument finds support, mostly from people over age 50 at a gathering of the deaf in New York. What would seem like an open-and-shut decision thus has extra dimensions. The Artinian family--grandparents, brothers and cousins--allows director Josh Aronson a remarkable amount of access. The director dubs in the dialogue during heated sign-language arguments between the members of the family over the matter of Heather's hearing.

Sound and Fury is an engrossing shot-on-video tale--and yet it's still not all there. A family feud is always interesting; it's the appeal, in Jerry Springer et al, of watching someone else's family have at it for a change. Yet Aronson doesn't ask all of the right questions. Though he films the cochlear implant operation on Heather's cousin, who was also born deaf, we don't have a real idea of how the operation works. And we don't we have any statistics on how often the operation goes wrong, thus Peter Artinian's claim that deaths often result from this cochlear implant surgery goes unchallenged. And if there is a true deaf culture, why not explore that? Although Heather Artinian is a charming girl, the scenes of her in her classroom are too much like the TV-news effect of quick doses of cuteness instead of much-needed information. Giving the elder Artinian his due doesn't really give him a better ground for his unwillingness to let his daughter hear than "because I say so." Although you sympathize with his feelings, it does seem a bit like the complaints immigrants sometimes make about the Americanization of their children or Jehovah's Witnesses citing statistics about tainted blood supplies to bolster their belief against giving their children transfusions. I couldn't turn a deaf ear, so to speak, to Artinian's arguments, but the father's contrariness in Sound and Fury is reminiscent of the Aesop's fable about the tailless fox who preached at the foxes to trim off their own tails. The moral goes, "If you had not lost your tail, my friend, you would not thus counsel us."

Sound and Fury (unrated; 80 min.) a documentary by Josh Aronson, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the December 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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