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Notes on Blindness

September 30, 2016

Notes on Blindness (2016)
Director: Peter Middleton, James Spinney

Notes-on-Blindness-2016-movie.jpg (310×165)

Synopsis: An account of the life of academic, John Hull, after he becomes blind.

Review: Though unquestionably proficient and articulate in its intent to dramatise the practical and ethical traumas of blindness, Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s docu-drama is almost a little too mainstream in its sensibility, and could have done with being bolder and going even more abstract to truly honour its subject matter.

The pathos of blindness is milked a little too much (beneath the veneer of an evidently articulate subject and ingenious narrative constructions). The grammar of the film in approximating the lost/heightened sensations that come with blindness is a little too hackneyed – such as the willowy-lit sunshine as a boy runs his palms through idyllic wild grass, and the overly demonstrative sequence of John Hull revelling in the aural canvas that heavy rain provides.

Away from overloading sentiment, the film undoubtedly has a fascinating story. Some of the practicalities of managing the condition of blindness are fascinating. In particular, how Hull as an academic has to contrive a completely new system of reading books (acquiring legions of helpers who read chapters of the anthropological tomes he needs to research into his tape recorders). Also, there are some reflections on the emotional refuse of blindness: namely, how memories can fade under the condition, as the ability to remember is only nourished by continual sight – hence Hull reflects “the brain longs for optic stimulation”.

In the end, the film lingers a touch too long in its wafting, emotional detours. The conceit of actors miming the story and recordings isn’t as radical as it sounds (in fact, it’s almost opposite to the ethos of the subject matter as it’s an attempt to sanitise/visualise blindness), and in wanting to have its narrative cake and eat it in a prettified way, the film Notes on Blindness reminded me of most is Julian Schnabel’s emotional but very literal-minded story of a locked-in syndrome patient, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (September 2016)

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