Monday, 22 August 2016

Notes on Blindness

Pete Middleton and James Spinney's deeply moving documentary is part drama, part documentary about theologian John Hull's descent into blindness. Much like Clio Barnard's The Arbor, the film uses actors lip syncing to actual audio recordings of the film's subjects, namely John Hull (Dan Renton Skinner) and his wife Marilyn (Simone Kirby).

A documentary about a person, living or dead, is only as good as the subject that its based on. John Hull, who is the main subject of the documentary, is such an intelligent and wonderfully articulate man that his writings or recordings on blindness are so beautifully written that his description of blindness brings a vivid imaginings of the experience of blindness to all those who watch it. John Hull's recordings are both inspiring and incredibly hard-hitting, there are many moments you feel John is slowly becoming accustomed to his blindness but the truth hits home hard, especially when he struggles to enjoy his own family's happiness at Christmas and his realisation that he's useless if his children are in dire need of help.

It's films like this that help you realise how important each of the senses are, particularly sight and sound. The film makes you think about all the things you'd lose if you were to lose your sight such as the inability to see your own partner or children, there's a heartbreaking moment where John feels as though he's almost forgetting what his wife and children look like. It's a profoundly moving documentary but one that grieves for his disability because, as time goes on, John Hull becomes more determined to not let his blindness take control of his life, not letting his condition stop him building loving relationships with his wife and children and continuing his teaching.

The actors do a good job bringing Hull's recording to life and the directors do a stunning job bringing out a visual representation of blindness. It almost ironic that a film about blindness is so beautifully shot with evocative shots of rainfall, which help John almost see more of the world around him. The outstanding sound design, the sound of the falling rain, wind blowing and the auto tapes themselves, illuminate how important sound is for blind people (and non-blind people alike) to become aware of their surroundings. 

Making a film about blindness, using a very visual medium, was always going to be difficult, but directors Pete Middleton and James Spinney achieved that with a remarkable beauty and sensitivity. 


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