Friday, July 01, 2016

Notes on Blindness - John Hull's new view on life (Queen’s Film Theatre until Thu 7 July)

“Every time I wake up, I lose my sight.”

It’s a sobering explanation from John Hull who had sight problems throughout his childhood and finally totally lost his vision as an adult in his 40s.

A writer and university lecturer, he at first distracted himself finding ways to compensate for his failing sight and learning how to function as a blind academic by building up coping strategies and enlisting an army of readers to record text books onto tape cassettes. However, over time he realised that he had to chose whether to live in nostalgia to whether to fully embrace blindness.

We see the real couple just once during the film. But throughout we hear their voices, with the soundtrack of Notes on Blindness piecing together John’s audio diaries made during the 1980s as he began to study his condition, and later conversations with his wife Marilyn recollecting on their experience of living with his blindness. Filmmakers Pete Middleton and James Spinney are imaginative in how they craft clips together, matching contemporaneous recordings of events with reflections years later.

The sound track leads the visuals, with many of the shots are partially obscured, with the cast acting in shadows, seeing only part of their faces. Actors Dan Renton Skinner and Simone Kirby are seen lip syncing to some the recorded dialogue. While the technique is used sparingly, the audience sometimes experience blindness not only with darkness but also with bright whiteouts – eg, snow blizzards – that make it impossible to determine form or location.

The film proceeds at a gentle pace, feeling its way through John’s evolving exploration of his new vision. Fond family memories are blighted by depression at not being able to see his children unwrap their Christmas presents. A dream of being able one of his daughters for the first time turns out to be more of a nightmare. We hear how John hesitated at the opportunity to visit his parents back in Australia, a place which no longer has any remaining visual memory and familiarity for him.

There are some very tender, vulnerable moments. [It may be some sort of QFT record that tears didn’t come to my eyes until the 64th minute.] Yet we learn little about John’s views on any subject other than blindness. Even hearing him lecture, it’s not obvious that he’s a theologian. The one spiritual experience towards the close of the film puts his “gift” into a new perspective.
“Question is not why have I got it, but what am I going to do with it?”

Notes on Blindness is being screened at the Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 7 July.

1 comment:

tgwpage said...

just mentioned by Mark Kermode on BBC News, Alan, and your review came up on google. Looks like one to go see!