Ted Evans: Come along to Shuffle Festival on Sunday and watch Together, a forgotten classic about two Deaf men

Posted on July 29, 2014

Naturally I’m always interested when deaf people are portrayed in films, I personally seek them out for my development project where I am looking at the portrayal of deaf characters in film and how sign language is captured.

So if I hear I about a certain film, I have to see it and that is what happened a couple of years ago when a friend of mine, Pickles, was telling me about an old film he’d seen somewhere on the Internet.

He said the film was about two deaf men who don’t speak, and only sign, in East London, in the 1950’s.

He wasn’t sure if it was a documentary or a fictional film but remembered seeing a completely different post-war London and unusual sign language from the two characters. It looked like finger spelling but it was nothing like we know it.

I had to see this and instantly we scoured all over the Internet for it. After having no luck finding the film online we discovered the name of the film. It’s called Together and was part of the BFI’s Free Cinema established back in the 1950’s.

I ordered it and it arrived two days later. Watching the film was unbelievable. I felt so privileged to be watching something so rare and unique.

It was the London that has disappeared, a completely different world yet some parts of it looked so familiar. There were no tower blocks, hardly any cars and people talked to their neighbors in the street.

You had your local policemen patrolling the streets and kids playing with stones and marbles and even very early roller-skates.

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 11.11.10My attention quickly turned to the two characters. At first I wondered if they were actually deaf. There were moments when their behavior was intriguing but then their sign language was very peculiar, I couldn’t make out anything, not even the finger spelling, or what looked like it.

I came to the conclusion that this was perhaps their method of communication; they could possibly have been from another country. I also knew a hearing person had most probably cut the film without any knowledge or understanding of sign language, so it was not easy to follow.

The story is about two deaf men who communicate only by sign language. They share a room in a house with another family; spend their days working at the docks and their evenings down the pub. The local kids make fun of them but they take it all on the chin.

I showed the film to my father as he used to live in East London for over 30 years and instantly he recognized one of the deaf characters; it was Eduardo Paolozzia (hearing) Scottish sculptor and artist.

That solved it then, they definitely weren’t deaf actors (as suspected) and they were most likely making up the sign language. I then read up more about the film and have found it fascinating ever since.

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 11.11.20Lorenza Mazzetti directed the film with and the well-respected Lindsay Anderson even played a crucial role in saving the film at one stage. Made with just £2000, it was the longest in the BFI’s first free cinema programme.

In 1956 the film was so popular it was selected as one of two short film entries for the Cannes Film Festival and it screened at the Academy cinema in London for 5 weeks.

Although the film is not authentic and does not actually reveal what deaf people were like back in the 1950’s, it is still unique in the fact it is deaf people being portrayed as the main characters.

I also feel it comes from a good heart and makes me wonder what life was like for deaf people back then. With no technology to connect with other deaf people, I bet some good friends did stay together and went on journeys like these two gentlemen – simply existing.

The sign language is dodgy but I didn’t think Paolozzi and Michael Andrews did a bad job of it. They certainly weren’t patronizing and maybe they or Mazzetti knew someone close to them who was deaf… Who knows?

One can imagine a film made back in the 50’s could easily have had a patronizing and demeaning portrayal of the two deaf characters in question. Thankfully it isn’t and it is documented that director Mazzetti projected her own personal feelings into these two deaf characters that are isolated from the world around them.

It is a great watch and it will be screening at the Shuffle Festival next week along with other more recent award winning films (and a couple of recent releases). I shall be there too giving a talk about all things filmmaking.

If you manage to come along, I hope you enjoy this fascinating rare film.

Together will be screened on Sunday 3rd August at 5pm at Southern Grove Community Centre, in Southern Grove, Mile End, E34PX as part of the Shuffle Festival’s Deaf films event. To find out more, click here: http://www.shufflefestival.com/programme/



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