Notes on Blindness
- Allan Hunter
- 27 June 2016
Remarkable documentary imaginatively exploring theologian John Hull’s loss of sight
Theologian John Hull lost his sight in the early 1980s. In order to make some sense of what was happening to him, he recorded hundreds of cassettes about the practical challenges of his blindness and the philosophical questions it raised for him.
In Notes on Blindness, directors Pete Middleton and James Spinney employ actors lip-synching to those recordings as they create an elegiac, incredibly immersive portrait of Hull and his family. The result is a haunting, throat-catching documentary that shares some of the lyrical power of Clio Barnard’s The Arbor or Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life.
Hull (played here by Dan Renton Skinner) died last summer as the film was being completed. He appears to have been a decent, gentle man with a keen analytical mind, qualities that are reflected in the film. There is no self-pity in Hull’s words, which only makes the film more heartrending. He demonstrates an acute sensitivity to others as he attempts to fathom the meaning of his blindness. The effort to smile with no hope of seeing a return is likened to sending out dead letters. He worries that the blindness will isolate him from his wife Marilyn (Simone Kirby) and their children. ‘Shall I scratch my eyes out?’, she suggests. ‘Shall I come with you into this world?’
The bigger questions for Hull revolved around, as he puts it, ‘whether I was going to live in reality or live in nostalgia.’ His philosophical tussle with blindness, his constant feeling of loss and what it meant for his faith are utterly compelling. It is remarkable that he was able to reach a state of grace in which he came to view his blindness as a gift. The journey towards that is the basis of a deeply moving and unexpectedly uplifting film.
Selected release from Fri 1 Jul.