Film Society Selection
'NOTES ON BLINDNESS'
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Tickets £8.60, SHP members £7.00.
BFS members (BFS shows only) £6.60. You may have to show a BFS membership card. Concessions £7.60. SHP make an additional £0.70 charge when paying by credit card. Reserving a ticket by phone, expect to pay by cash at the box office 30 minutes prior to show time.
7th March 7.45pm
Director: Pete Middleton/James Spinney, UK, 2016, 88 minutes
Cast: Dan Renton Skinner, Simone Kirby, John M Hull (voice), Marilyn Hull (voice)
Theologian and writer John Hull began to lose his sight shortly after the birth of his first son.
A series of audio recordings of his experience create this intimate and acutely
insightful account of one man's sense of loss that is both cerebral and deeply heartfelt.
by the AGM at approximately
Mark Kermode, Observer film critic
Cinemas paradoxical fascination with sightlessness has spawned movies as diverse as Terence Youngs 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, Takeshi Kitanos 2003 martial-arts actioner Zatôichi and Eskil Vogts prurient 2014 psychodrama Blind. Yet few films have portrayed the absence of vision with any degree of insight. Honourable exceptions include British film-maker Gary Tarns 2005 documentary Black Sun, an electrifying, expressionist portrait of painter and photographer Hugues de Montalembert, who found new ways of seeing after being blinded by a violent attack in 1978.
The film highlights the growing tactility of Hull's world, closing in on the sources of sound.
Now this superb documentary by Peter Middleton and James Spinney dramatises the life-changing experiences of theology professor John Hull, whose audiotape diaries of his journey into blindness formed the basis of his 1990 book Touching the Rock. Building upon their 2014 Emmy award-winning short film, Middleton and Spinney have created an utterly immersive feature worthy of Hulls end-quote declaration that to gain our full humanity, blind people and sighted people need to see each other.
the mimed verbatim theatre of Clio Barnards The Arbor,
in which actors lip-synch the recorded testimonies of real people, Notes
on Blindness is built upon the voices of John and his family (from audio
diaries, taped letters, domestic recordings and interviews). The result
brilliantly blurs the boundary between drama and documentary, the disjuncture
between authentic sound and artificial vision perfectly capturing the
contradictory nature of Hulls worldview as his eyesight is eclipsed
by cataracts and retinal detachment. The stars had gone, the moon
had gone, he remembers, and soon the midday sun would disappear
too. Significantly, the last thing he saw was a church spire.
While friends provided serious books, recorded sensibly (a home-grown forerunner of Audible.com), Hulls dreams clung to sight, his brain crying out for visual stimulation. Only when relinquishing his nostalgia for the light could he start to see clearly, enabling a purging that increased and enhanced his consciousness. Its a gift, he declares. Not a gift I want but it is a gift. At which point, his question becomes: Not why have I got it, but what am I going to do with it?
Temples The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson, Notes on Blindness lends
boldly adventurous cinematic form to the heightened experiences of an
articulate, eloquent, and soul-searchingly honest subject. At times,
it looks like a thriller, as we stalk Dan Renton Skinners John
through a threateningly darkened underpass. Elsewhere, shadows of the
horror genre lurk; a hallucinatory scene dramatises Hulls vision
of a tidal wave of water engulfing the aisles of a supermarket, recalling
the elevator of blood from The Shining, a film that is very much about
seeing and not seeing. Throughout, cinematographer Gerry Floyd highlights
the growing tactility of Hulls world, closing in on the sources
of sound, eschewing eye contact for more sensory interaction.
As memories of the faces of his wife and daughter fade, so photographs remain weirdly vivid, their browning hues echoed by the palette of the film. Still images come to life, like the implanted memory of a family picture that shimmers briefly into motion in Blade Runner. And rain paints a picture too its clatter lending aural shape to a sunless landscape, an epiphany of noise as clear-sighted as any optical vision. In scenes that recall the quasi-religious ecstasy of debbie tucker greens Second Coming, the film-makers bring the rain indoors, with Joakim Sundströms precise sound design conjuring spatial cathedrals.
There is a divinity at work here, yet Hulls mantra has a humanist heart, concerning the profound need for understanding between the sighted and the blind, men and women, rich and poor, old and young. His children are a source of joy, from eldest daughter Imogens playful Radio Hull recordings to young Thomass piercing questions about God. But Johns real rock is his wife; a scene in which Simone Kirbys Marilyn dances with her husband to the sounds of the Mamas and the Papas reminded me of The Possibilities Are Endless, another film that might be mistaken for a documentary about physical affliction (in this case Edwyn Collinss recovery from a stroke), but is in fact a song of endless love.
Maximising its accessibility, Notes on Blindness is available in audio-described and enhanced soundtrack versions, the latter transforming the film into a singular aural experience. (Theres also a virtual reality project, subtitled Into Darkness, currently touring UK venues.) John Hull died in July last year, but his spirit lives on in this extraordinary inclusive work, which is as educational, entertaining and inspirational as its subject.