Pioneering documentarian John Grierson defined documentary form as “the creative treatment of actuality,” and the remarkable new film “Notes on Blindness” fully reflects the creative way to tackle nonfiction storytelling. In the early 1980s, theologian, professor, writer, father and husband John Hull began to lose his sight after years of deterioration. As blindness took over his day-to-day life, memories, brain, family and spirituality, Hull recorded his thoughts on tape, including interactions with his wife, Marilyn, and their children.
Directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney have adapted these recordings to visual cinematic form, with actors lip syncing the words in filmed vignettes that feel like a narrative film, especially with fine performances from Simone Kirby playing Marilyn and Dan Renton Skinner bringing John’s experience to the screen. The result is an achingly poignant and startlingly immediate portrait of a man adapting to life with a disability, struggling to maintain his own academic work and intimate relationships while his experience of the world and existential, spiritual beliefs evolve into something completely new.
The actors bring the visual emotion and embodiment to the recordings, but it’s the Hulls’ voices on the tapes themselves are so remarkable — honest and searching, unflinching and curious about how to live life in a way that’s sensorially different but unique in its own way. The film’s quiet impact comes as it leads us along John’s journey to understanding this disability as an unexpected, but ultimately accepted, gift.
‘Notes on Blindness’
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica