Notes on Blindness, film review: ‘Far more than just a documentary about blindness’

Notes on Blindness

Notes on Blindness - Credit: Archant

In 1983 the theologian John Hull went blind just before the birth of his second child.

For the next few years he applied himself to adapting to this new reality, working out the practicalities of continuing his academic career.

Once those was satisfactorily organised, he addressed the condition of blindness, what it meant to be deprived of that sense, and recorded everything on tape cassette.

It’ll be filed under “documentary” but this film is far more than that.

It uses a technique I’ve only seen used previously in The Arbor, where actors playing Hull and his wife Marilyn lip synch to the character’s recordings.

The effect can be dislocating as often they seem to be acting in a scene while delivering dialogue that is commenting on that scene as a past event.

Hull’s observations on blindness are revelatory – he becomes very conscious of whether he still smiles, as blindness means they have become dead letters because he never gets anything back.

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Trying to film blindness is a challenge in itself.

There is the obvious solution, a blank screen, but Middleton and Spinney’s solution is to play up the preciousness of sight.

The film looks beautiful but is filled with visual frustrations that prevent you seeing a complete picture: dark and murky, close ups, odd angles, blurred images.

Technically this counts as a triumph over adversity story – Hull lived to be 80, had five children, a happy marriage and a successful career – but it is the adversity that stays with you, the darkness that descended upon him.

It’s a quietly wonderful achievement.

It’s rich and poignant yet rational and efficient; impressionistic yet practical.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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