‘Most People Don’t See Past the Neon’
While ‘Sign Language’ (Oscar Sharp 2010) is a short video, it manages to encompass a broad layer of meaning. Ben is a Static Outdoor Information Technician which describes elaborately his job as a Sign Holder. Fraught but ‘puppy dog’ in his innocence and optimism, Ben seems to gain much satisfaction from his post on the London street corner, referring to his fellow ‘technicians’ as ‘work mates’ and generally not having a bad word to say about anyone or anything.
The entire film is shot in a kind of documentary format, with Ben phantom interviewing the entire time and it all being shot at eye level with hand-held cam. This is effective in conveying the meaning of the images we are being presented with e.g. when Ben looks at and talks about the girl across the street, we can see he is fixated on her but his voice is slightly more lacking in enthusiasm as goes on about how he ‘can’t talk to her’. This is subtle but it does show us he has a (likely romantic) interest in her. Semiotics convey this also, with how they both are wearing matching gloves.
That said I do believe the capture of expressions is intrinsic in this short as it helps to convey emotion to us in a way more natural than any other. It is constructed to feel human, not artificial. In the shots with Ben talking to the camera, the depth of field is shallow, keeping only him in focus to the blurry backdrop of the city, making him, his words and his expressions and mannerisms the only subject and it creates a sense of a true human interaction and this gives the film its weight.
The fundamental message here to me however is that happiness isn’t material, like a good job or money or a flash car, but happiness is there regardless of your situation and it is there if you look hard enough to find it, make the most out of what you have and take your opportunities. But that being said, one of Sign Language’s top qualities is that it is open to interpretation, nothing is spoon fed to us and we come away from it with our own readings… More than likely on the more positive side.
Sign Language is a very genuine feel good short film.