If there’s one video you watch today, you best make it “Notes on Blindness.” A beautiful short documentary by Peter Middleton and James Spinney, which captures the thoughts of a blind man trying to grasp a world without vision. It utilizes the actual audio recordings of writer and theologian, John Hull, aforementioned blind man, and couples them with dramatization. “Notes on Blindness” artfully documents the assimilation of grief, yet eventual insight, in what Hull describes as a “world beyond sight.” It’s an uplifting tale that’s sure to leave a lasting impression and open your eyes to the world that surrounds you.
Peter Middleton and James Spinney are London-based film makers, and the creative-force behind “Notes on Blindness.” While filming a short documentary about the blind experience of snowfall, they met John and Marilyn Hull. They were immediately struck by Hull’s depth of observation and the power of his account regarding a world without vision. Out of this interest, they received a parcel of eight C90 cassettes (over 16 hours), diaries chronicling Hull’s life in darkness.
Hull’s audio recordings form the narrative backbone of the film. They are supported by cinematic interpretations using actors, visual metaphor, and textured sound design. It’s a refreshing, and more importantly, entertaining way to portray a documentary. Middleton and Spinney cite Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” and Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” as inspiration. A wholly artful approach, everything, down to the color, attempts to reflect the essence of Hull’s understanding. Rather than just put forth a series of events, Hull’s life is interpreted, and that is what makes all the difference.
When you set aside the aesthetic beauty of the visuals and storytelling, you’re left with a rather grim tale of a dejected man coming-to-terms with blindness. But, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s tremendously inspiring. Hull describes his blindness as “a dark, paradoxical gift.” Indeed, as his troubles leave me feeling more able to cope with my own. One instance, for example, sees Hull describing the rain, a moment that left me completely enthralled with Middleton and Spinney’s interpretation. His thoughts here are so utterly perceptive, that when coupled with the breathtaking visuals, I feel filled with a new level of understanding.
“Notes on Blindness” leaves a fresh lasting impression, but also reaffirms impressions I’ve long been aware of. One of those: the importance of keeping a journal. Any self-respecting creative, hell, self-respecting individual should record their thoughts. I have always implored all my friends and family to do so, and now I do the same to you. A journal acts on many levels: as a tool for self-exploration, research & development for craft, a therapeutic gift for exorcizing one’s demons, or even as a means to spur creativity.
Virginia Woolf once wrote, “little effort is needed to face a character or incident which needs to be recorded.” There’s no excuse not to and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, try bullet points, sketches, or as Hull utilized, audio. Through doing so, you’ll come to terms with your mind and provide future fodder to reflect upon later. As “Notes on Blindness” demonstrates, Hull’s recordings gave way to something much more grand than he possibly ever imagined, this is but one of the gifts a journal can bestow.
“Notes on Blindness” was an official selection at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently being developed into a feature-length film, Into Darkness. You can read more about John Hull’s journey in his book, Touching the Rock.