Directed by Pete Middleton, James Spinney. Starring Dan Renton Skinner, Simone Kirby, John M. Hull, Marilyn Hull, Eileen Davies.
THE PLOT: Having lost his sight in 1980, Australian theologian John Hull – living in England – decided to keep an audio diary. His second child had just been born, and life was very definitely going to go on. Hoping to make sense of this dark new world, Hull also recorded everyday events in his family, as well as sitting down with his wife, Marilyn, for interviews.
Maintaining his professional career is also important to Hull, and here too he keeps a record of his struggles to adapt…
THE VERDICT: With Hull’s audio recordings on the soundtrack, here, director Pete Middleton pulls together a cast to act out the scenes being played on these 30-something tapes. Middleton has quite a lot of fun with the uncertain world between sound and vision, as the lip-synching doesn’t always synch, and the cinematography gives us parts of the scene, parts of the face – but rarely the whole picture.
It’s an unsettling device, and one totally in keeping with the exploration that Hull is making. And it makes for a deeply moving documentary…
Review by Paul Byrne

  • filmbuff2011

    For a mostly visual medium, cinema feels like the ideal place to be watching Notes On Blindness, a reflective docu-drama on the life-changing consequences of going blind.

    It relates the life experiences of John Hull, an English writer, academic and theologian. He was also a husband to Marilyn and a father to five children. In 1983, he started to gradually lose his sight… until it was gone for good, plunging him into darkness. But out of that darkness, he forged a new way of living. He gradually adapted to a world made more out of sound than out of sight. He decided to relate his experiences through the medium of audio cassette recordings of conversations with his wife and children. These recordings play over staged re-enactments with actors Dan Renton Skinner and Simone Kirby lip-synching to their real-life counterparts. Over the course of 90 minutes, we’re taken on a deeply personal journey through one man’s coping process…

    That’s only a basic summation of Notes On Blindness, a thought-provoking meditation on our reliance on sight – and what we do when it’s not there anymore. As the film’s dream-like images and memories wash over you like waves on a beach, it’s tempting to just close your eyes and briefly imagine what Hull was experiencing. There’s a lovely moment when Hull relates holding his new-born son for the first time, feeling his tiny fingers and the warmth of his body against his own. Everyday things we take for granted now took on huge significance for Hull. Ultimately, he chooses reality over nostalgia. Wondering why God allowed him to go blind is an interesting question from a theologian. Hull reasons that it was more just a natural deterioration in his eyes, a cruel twist of fate rather than anything else.

    An expansion of their documentary short, co-directors Pete Middleton and James Spinney have constructed an entirely original, individual take on blindness. Using the actual recordings gives the film an added personal touch and the re-enactments of scenes are more suggestive than anything fully-formed, as they should be. This is a film made of many different fragments, constructed in a way that feels unhurried and contemplative – a rare thing these days. The editing by Julian Quantrill is of particular note, as this could have been a rather dry film with limited potential. Instead, Notes On Blindness is quietly moving, touching and never hits a false note. A rewarding film that is well worth seeking out. ****