On the surface, it could be easy to describe Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s documentary Notes on Blindness as, well, just a film about blindness. However there’s much more to be found lurking in the darkness. This captivatingly shot documentary focuses on John Hull, an Australian-born, UK-living academic who lost all vision back in the late seventies after years of sight issues. In an attempt to regain some sort of control over his life and tragic situation, Hull began documenting his newfound isolation via countless cassettes, translating his routines, findings and pain into carefully dictated audio snippets.
It’s these voices in the ether that directing duo Middleton and Spinney pull from to bring this turbulent journey to life, together with some newly captured interview testimonials from Hull and his wife Marilyn. The last pieces of the puzzle are two expert turns from actors Dave Renton Skinner (better known as Shooting Stars’ Angelos Epithemiou of all people) and Simone Kirby as Hull’s dedicated spouse who breathe life into these audio accounts with some to-the-tee lip-synching. In fact, they do such a good job at framing Hull’s audio notes, you soon forget you’re not actually watching the interviewees themselves. Each performance pulls you in, making Hull’s touching and often painful story all the more affecting.
Perhaps the most potent parts of the documentary, and the reason why Hull’s story is worthy of the big-screen treatment, are the often overlooked or sometimes not even acknowledged aspects of blindness. Imagine the raw pain of not being able to see your child’s smile on Christmas morning. Think about the claustrophobic panic you’d experience fumbling around in a wholly unfamiliar surrounding. Consider what a thirty year absence of visual stimulus does to the human brain. Hull eloquently touches upon all of these topics and more while detailing his unique life experience.
You’re probably thinking this all sounds a little too heavy for a casual trip to the cinema. At times, Middleton, Spinney and their cast translating the full extent of Hull’s ordeal so well that it can be quite hard to bear. However the team still manage to end things on a positive note and remind you that while your road may be rocky and situation unpredictable, a strong foundation can be the only light you need.
Notes on Blindness is in cinemas now.