Starring: John M. Hull, Dan Renton Skinner, Simone Kirby
Director: Pete Middleton, James Spinney
Running Time: 90 mins
Notes On Blindness is a British documentary about writer John M. Hull and his reflections on losing his vision, featuring recordings from his experiences as he attempted to make sense of his deteriorating sight.
As intimate as documentaries get, Notes On Blindness takes a striking and unique approach to the genre, featuring factual detail that follows the heartbreaking deterioration of writer John M. Hull’s sight over the years, and blending it with a sort of dramatic interpretation, featuring performances that recreate the scenes we hear described, overlaid with the actual recordings taken by Hull at the time.
As a result, there’s no denying that Notes On Blindness is an attention-grabbing watch, and with that, it’s able to take you deep into the psyche of a man both struggling to comprehend his situation yet pushing on ahead despite the trouble, achieving it in far more striking fashion than any film I’ve seen before it.
What Notes On Blindness proves, then, is that the documentary genre doesn’t necessarily have to take a direct, third-person approach to storytelling, and as this film plays out under the narration of Hull’s personal recordings, it feels like it’s him that’s taking you through the story, a brilliant tool to further the sense of intimacy in the film.
Where the film falls down in that regard, however, is through its use of actors in the recreation of scenes from Hull’s life. The use of the writer’s original recordings is a stroke of genius, and the style of those recreations isn’t too intrusive on the film’s grounded sense of intimacy, but I did feel that it was something that distanced myself from the core story, contrary to what the film was really trying to achieve.
That’s not to say the film lacks emotional power, but I felt that perhaps simply using images and landscapes to play out alongside Hull’s own narration would have prevented any sense of disconnect, a little like how the striking Apollo 11 documentary is entirely composed of footage and imagery from the time, without any intrusion from a more cinematic and less personal presence.
Overall, Notes On Blindness definitely makes for a striking, intriguing and at times genuinely heartbreaking watch. With a unique style that creates real intimacy throughout, it’s a memorably bold take on the documentary genre, but the film also undoes its own good work with the use of actors that take a little bit of that personal atmosphere away, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.3.