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Notes on Blindness
As a teenager, the theologian John Hull, born in 1935, contracts cataracts. For him, the experience of going blind means a gradual reduction of visual imagination and memory, until they disappear completely in 1983. “Deep blindness” is what he calls this condition, in which the very idea of seeing progressively dissolves. Notably, it is the subsequent social isolation which forces Hull to actively engage in the dramatic transformation of his world. Equipped with a tape recorder, he begins to keep an audio diary which eventually results in the publication of his book Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness (1990).
With Notes on Blindness, filmmakers Peter Middleton and James Spinney impressively master the paradoxical task of translating Hull’s blindness into a visual language. In their essay film, scenes from Hull’s life are played by actors whose lip syncing accompanies words from the original tapes. Thus, Hull’s voice remains present, while his participation in the visual world is fractured. For him, the tape recorder becomes a new face – with reels for eyes – whereas the visual belongs now to the world of dreams.
It is from these recordings that the film picks up the recurring metaphor of water for the experience of blindness. But water, in the form of rain, plays another, more tangible role, too: Hull deploys the sound of raindrops to re-create and re-appropriate the space around him. “Blindness is a world”, he says; the film allows us a glimpse into this world and points toward the fact that vision, too, is just another world. In order to understand it better, we must think of blindness as its complement.
Peter Middleton and James Spinney
From respective backgrounds studying visual art and English literature, Peter and James have been working together for the past six years on a range of fiction, documentary and cross-platform projects. During this period they have adapted John’s diary material into a series of award-winning short films. The first of these, Rainfall, won the Best Short Documentary Award at Hot Docs 2013. This was followed in 2014 by the Emmy Award-winning short Notes on Blindness, which screened at Sundance Film Festival and won Best Documentary at Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival.