Saint John — It’s a sound that longtime Saint John residents have gotten used to hearing each July for many years: crowds of cinephiles walking the streets of the Port City repeating lines of dialogue that have become part of the cultural lexicon:
“Hear my words! Hear my voice!”
“I can’t ever get close enough. Say my name, just once, say my name!”
“Sex was always something I could do as well as hearing girls — better!”
As nearly everyone knows, these are quotes from the 1986 romantic drama Children of a Lesser God starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin, which depicts the fraught love affair between a deaf schoolteacher and her hearing male colleague who tries to encourage her to speak aloud, despite her disability.
The 30th anniversary of the film, for which Matlin won a Best Actress Oscar, was celebrated all weekend at Harbour Station. “Lesser-God-Con,” as it is known, is the mecca for obsessed fans of the film. “If I had to describe it, the atmosphere is somewhere between the San Diego Comic-Con and the Gathering of the Juggalos,” said local resident Kenneth Rocquefort. “Except focused on an adult relationship drama instead of superheroes or clown rap.”
Rocquefort, who worked as an extra in a restaurant scene in the film, has built a lucrative career for himself over the decades as the operator of the “Children of a Lesser God Reality Bus Tour,” which transports fans around the Saint John area to show them the locales that served to double as a quaint New England town.
Stopping at the Harbour View High School where the iconic swimming pool love scene was filmed gave fans a chance to take selfies and recite lines of dialogue as they record each other with their phones. “A lot of the fans who take the tour are in their teens to mid-20s,” said Rocquefort. “You know, like, most people outgrow their obsession with Children of a Lesser God by the time they’re out of school, getting married, what-have-you. There’s a few guys, though, I see them every year,” he said with a fond grin. “This one guy from Wyoming went on the tour last year dressed as a hearing aid. Some of them cosplayers get right into it.”
This year’s event was the biggest Lesser-God-Con yet, with T-shirt and merchandise vendors setting up days in advance, preparing for the onslaught of rabid fans. (One T-shirt, a bestseller, has the precocious student William on it, along with his infamous catchphrase “So long, fuckface!” spoken in the film to Hurt’s character.)
In order to help finance the extravaganza, convention organizers partnered with corporate sponsors such as Combos Pretzel Snacks and Saint John-based brewers Moosehead. “We’re thrilled to be able to help fund this celebration of New Brunswick cinema,” said Larissa Fong, a spokesperson for Moosehead. “It’s unfortunate that we haven’t had more Academy Award winners filmed here in province — a lot of us had high hopes for These Girls [a 2009 sex comedy starring David Boreanaz] — but we’ll take what we can get. Plus, we actually got Marlee this year.”
Long considered a hold-out from the convention circuit, Matlin agreed to attend the convention to take part in a discussion panel and autograph session. “It was a hard decision to come to,” said the Oscar-winner through her American Sign Language translator. “Since starring in that film, I’ve done so much advocacy work on behalf of the hearing impaired. I love my fans but when I see things like that one guy dressed as a hearing aid, it’s like they’re co-opting my being as an affectation or a fashion statement.
“But on the other hand,” Matlin continued, “I get 25 percent on all the T-shirt sales. Pretty sweet, eh?”
William Hurt was also in attendance for the 23rd consecutive year. “Honestly, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than judging a Children of a Lesser God cosplay competition. I just love the fans’ passion. Sure, I guess some of them can be a bit intense, but it could be worse. At least they’re not Trekkies.”