Notes on Blindness is hard to put into words (he says, as he puts it into words). It is a sort of line blurring docudrama, but even that sounds wrong. Perhaps the best, and simplest, way to describe it is this: Notes on Blindness is an experience. A pure yet complex cinematic experience. All films are at their best in the cinema, but it is still worth stressing that this film needs to be seen on the big screen, with the best surround sound, with other people equally as enthralled as you.
Directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton have decided to chronicle John Hull’s descent into blindness in a unique way. Hull, a highly intelligent and eloquent academic, kept audio diaries as he began to lose his sight, and in the years following when the blindness was complete. He did this to convey, with heart-breaking honesty, his thoughts and feelings of life without sight. Spinney and Middleton have taken these tapes, along with interviews with the Hull family, and lip-synched them up with actors. This is not the only use of this interesting technique in film (Clio Barnard’s The Arbor), but it is still very refreshing, and allows the film to convey Hull’s thoughts both through his own words, and through film itself. The way Notes on Blindness uses sight and sound is special. Stunning cinematography, alongside Hull’s words, makes you really appreciate sight and even starts to make you feel slightly guilty. The film plays with sight, snapping between darkness and brightness and playing with focus in ways films rarely do. The sounds of the world we see is emphasized, allowing us to imagine how a blind man might visualize the world around him using his hearing. In one eye-opening scene, John Hull describes how he can differentiate between objects when it is raining, as the sound of rain hitting each material is unique. These thoughts are visualized in shots of rain with the noise of the water amped up, making us realise that we too can differentiate, yet are lucky enough to have never had to. There are plenty of other genius moments, but to reveal them here would never do them justice.
Often, when talking about performance in film, people say that acting is all in the eyes and, by extension, the reaction. Notes on Blindness is perhaps the perfect example of this. The lead actors Dan Renton Skinner (John Hull) and Simone Kirby (Hull’s wife Marilyn) never actually deliver a line of dialogue themselves, leading to performances which are all about reaction. Whether it is Skinner’s hands feeling their way round the environment or Kirby’s face as she begins to notice her husband’s deteriorating mental health, every aspect of their physical performance is perfect.
Notes on Blindness uses John Hull’s ground breaking diaries to provide an insight into a world that very few people have any real notion of. It is a necessary piece that has been constructed in such an intelligent way by Spinney and Middleton. A truly unique and educational experience.