Analysis: Sign Language

Sign Language an award winning short film, directed Oscar Sharp and starring Jethro Skinner, uses a mockumentary style to tell the story of Ben, a “static outdoor information technician” AKA a board man, standing on Oxford Street holding a sign advertising for a golf sale. Ben has just received a promotion and the film portrays his last day on the job. Skinner’s heartfelt narration, extremely expressional face and a lightly strumming backing soundtrack builds layers of emotion throughout the five minute piece.

Ben passionately describes how his father passed down the job to him, and how he even carries his grandfather’s pole, showing the character to be sweet, yet also seeming rather pitiful as he uses fancy terminology to describe his simple job, insisting that he earned it as well, making it seem almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that he loves the job rather than truly meaning it.

This feeling is only emphasized as he describes his “co-workers”, fellow board men on the same street, referring to one man as a joker who appears rather downcast, and ignores Ben when he says hello, to which Ben responds, “must be planning some hijinks”, emphasizing the idea that he’s making things up to try and make himself feel better about his line of work.

As Ben describes the new girl, Anya, you can immediately sense his attraction towards her as he turn s his head away from the camera for almost the whole time he talks about her, looking towards her, whereas for the rest of the video he constantly faces towards the camera as he speaks. Skinner’s performance is highlighted throughout the video by the use of an extreme close-up on his face, even cutting off his forehead to focus in on his facial features. The connection between Ben and Anya is further strengthened visually by the use of costume as they wear the same rainbow gloves.

The mood of the film shifts however as Ben passionately describes what he’ll miss about his job, describing the history of the architecture, calling them, “works of art”. He describes how much community and life there is on the street, and how, “most people don’t see past the neon”. He speaks of how his job taught him to notice these things, even quoting Tom Hardy, and the audience begins to realize that Ben is not a simpleton just trying to make himself feel better, but actually an intelligent, eloquent individual whose positive outlook on life causes him to genuinely find joy in his simple work, as he can appreciate the finer details of the world.

The audience is seemingly returned to a more depressing viewpoint of Ben as delusional as his buzzer goes off signalling the end of the work day and none of his co-workers bother to give him a send off. This bittersweet moment is broken by a sharp whistle, and Ben’s fellow board men flip their boards, with messages wishing him goodbye, and telling him to speak to Anya before he goes. This sweet gesture seems to suggest to the audience that, while Ben may paint his co-workers as a more zany bunch than in truth, they at least appreciate his positive outlook, a sweet end note to the film.

I take issue with the credits scene of the film however, in which Ben is now flying a plane as a skywriter, still advertising for free golf, with Anya looking up at him, now taking his position and sign on Oxford street. While it is certainly nice to see Ben happy in a position that seems more suited to a man of his clear intellect, the “happily ever after” tone of the ending is very jarring given the cold reality feel of the rest of the film, and this is only worsened by the last shot of Ben spelling out “The end” in skywrting.

Andrew Sheller is a Media Production student at Coventry University. You can see more content from Andrew at their Facebook page through this link.

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