As University lecturer John Hull started to lose his sight in the early 1980s he recorded an audio diary of three years, which documented his journey to total blindness, utter despair and finally renewed hope. Notes On Blindness has actors lip-synch the family’s voices in a dramatisation of the recordings, creating a surreal but striking film.
Released from the restraints of using real footage the strongest scenes are where reality is left behind, such as John’s dream of the family drowning and the torrential rainstorm which falls down inside the house. The film uses dark colours and rich light, the scenes are often partially out of focus, or the action is somehow obscured, and there are long sections of close-ups with a moving camera. This cinematography beautifully relays John’s fading vision, a sense of the world closing in on him and his disorientation.
The acting is impressive, the lip-synching of the audio tapes, which at first is jarring (particularly when a discussion about the past is taking place in the visual present), soon feels natural. The most touching moments are those between John and his children as they struggle to understand his condition and he struggles to be part of their world.
Yet in many ways the films suffers from style over substance. Notes On Blindness moves slowly and the lack, and ambiguity, of the action relies upon the audience paying close attention. Repeated motifs of staircases, cassettes whirling and John’s hands are meaningful, but hold up the pace even further.
Notes On Blindness is a clever twist on the documentary with its use of a real audio diary being dramatised by actors. Visually rich and emotional it is impressive piece of film, but its sobriety and highly stylised nature means it can turn into an exhausting watch.
DIRECTOR: Peter Middleton, James Spinney
SYNOPSIS: As John Hull starts to lose his sight he starts an audio diary over three years which has been dramatised by actors.