Developed from an Emmy award-winning short film of the same name, Notes On Blindness is a moving account of theologian and professor John Hull’s struggles and thoughts during the 1980’s, as he adapted to / came to terms with his blindness. It uses original audio recordings from an archive made by Hull and his family at the time, which subsequently served as a basis for the academic’s acclaimed books on blindness, and these aural snippets are combined with visual reconstructions that feature actors lip-syncing the dialogue. In that sense it’s one of those pieces that could be described as a work of fiction (albeit one that’s heavily based on fact) and as a documentary, no doubt annoying anyone who thinks that a film should only ever be one or t’other. But regardless of that, it’s beautifully shot, with darkness, shallow depth-of-field and soft focus used to enhance our empathy with Hull’s visual disconnection from the world, and the loss of clarity he experiences with regard to his memories; joint directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney also incorporate flights of fancy, which help to illustrate the professor’s descriptions of the new and unexpected ways that he connects with his family and the world around him.
Sadly Hull passed away in 2015, but he was involved in the making of this film, acting as a consultant and appearing with his wife Marilyn at the end. Dan Renton Skinner, who plays the professor here, is a revelation; he’s best known for playing his own comic creation Angelos Epithemiou on TV, so this came as a surprise, as it’s one of the performances I’ve enjoyed the most so far this year. And special mention must also go to Joakim Sundström, the supervising sound editor, who has also done a terrific job; sound is crucial to the film, and noises are gradually emphasised more and more throughout, to create the sense of Hull’s hearing sharpening over time. Sighted people who do not know any blind people will probably have a greater understanding of blindness after watching this film, and although that will largely come from hearing John Hull’s notes, the filmmakers and their crew have done a great job in terms of providing a thoughtful visual and aural accompaniment to those words.
Directed by: Peter Middleton, James Spinney.
Written by: Peter Middleton, James Spinney, John Hull.
Starring: Dan Renton Skinner, Simone Kirby, John Hull (voice), Marilyn Hull (voice).
Cinematography: Gerry Floyd.
Editing: Julian Quantrill.
Music: James Ewers, Noah Wood.
Running Time: 90 minutes.