Unique, moving and philosophical, the documentary Notes on Blindness **** recaptures the intimate thoughts and family life of theologian John Hull.
Hull went blind in 1985 and adapted his life around his new situation, continuing his work as a lecturer and committing his ideas to tape, the recordings of which form the basis for this film. So it becomes as much an audio experience as a visual one, culminating in an all-round sensory explosion as it concentrates on the time when darkness began to envelop Hull and plunge him into a new existence.
Hull and his wife Marilyn are played by actors Dan Renton Skinner (remarkably, better known as Angelos Epithemiou off Shooting Stars) and Simone Kirby, who sync the dialogue working from the cassettes, similarly to the technique used in Clio Barnard’s brilliant film The Arbor.
It’s a bold move and it comes off marvellously, allowing the film to get inside Hull’s mind but also to give us the drama of how his life and family have been affected. Indeed, for all the musings on blindness, it is the little human moments that make this film so appealing and tender – when we hear their children playing with the microphone, or opening Christmas presents.
Crucially, the film isn’t sentimental and pity is the last thing Hull, who died in 2015 just before directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton began filming, would have wanted. He lived to 80 years old and obviously had a full and thoughtful life. This woozy, dreamlike film is just a fragment of that life but its resonances go deeper, reflecting on the nature of memory, our senses and what actually makes up our reality, remembered or experienced.
You can listen to my interview with Notes on Blindness directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton on my regular Thursday slot on the Robert Elms Show on BBC Radio London. I start at 40minutes in, with a round up of the movies out this week and the interview is just after the hour mark. Enjoy.