Notes On Blindness is the title of a compendium of C-90 audio cassette tapes recorded by Professor John Hull, portrayed here by Dan Skinner, who’s recently turned 40, so could be considered to be a bit too young for the part, but there are elements of artistic licence in that which you can overlook as he does a damn fine job, and as he states in the extras, he became a father for the first time while he was playing the role of Hull, who sires his first son, and is also his first child since he went blind.
The reason for the audio recordings were to help him to understand blindness in order to retain his humanity.
John Hull also passed away last year, so this film also serves as a fitting tribute to the man.
His story begins in 1980 when he started to slowly go completely blind and, since he wanted to continue his work, he struggled to obtain complex audio books on topics like anthropology and sociology, simply because all they catered for was detective novels and romantic fiction, and when he asked how blind people read complex books, he was told… “they don’t”. He brilliantly countered this by asking a number of people to record audio books for him on his chosen topics.
He comes across as very accepting of his fate, whereas I’d be screaming blue murder. He was a very religious man and never castigated God for this. I am not at all religious. Nothing could make me see sense in what happens to him, if that were to happen to me.
The actors are shown mouthing the words of John and his wife, Marilyn (Simone Kirby), and itt takes a while to get used to hearing the real John Hull’s voice being synchronised with Dan SKinner’s mouth movements, but you do get there, and you realise it’s much better than Skinner simply attempting the same accent. I wonder if this has ever been done before? I certainly don’t recall it being done.
At one point, he tells us that he’s losing memories of what his wife and family look like, as well as his early life in Australia, and it made me wonder which would be the least worst option – to lose one’s sight or hearing, if I had to choose. It’s a bad situation either way. However, I also wondered, if I was blind, would I actively keep my eyelids shut? It feels more effort to do so than to leave them open, even though he can’t see. In addition, it’s interesting he still wears his glasses, despite not requiring them.
I’m not sure if this film worked 100% for me, but it was fascinating and captivating to watch for the subject, for how much research would’ve gone into this, and for Dan Skinner’s performance. To me, he’s made quite a turnaround from the character of Angelos Epithemiou who I couldn’t stand. I’ve since seen him in The Kennedys and High-Rise, and I know he’s made a number of other films and TV shows, so he clearly has many strings to his bow. It also makes me want to learn more about John Hull, himself.
The film is presented in the original theatrical 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, and while this is available in HD to stream from Amazon, for a physical format, it’s only available on DVD (which is standard definition), which is a great shame for one of the most talked-about movies of the year, and also for one that was filmed in 6K resolution. That said, this disc still gives great defintion when played through a PS4.
For the aural sense, there is superb audio (all in Dolby Digital 5.1) in dream-style sequences, one set inside his house but with rain falling. At first, I thought this was a fantasy sequence, but later realised it’s how he interprets the world, such as when the rain is apparently bearing down on the inside of his house?
There’s also an enhanced option for both DD5.1 and stereo soundtracks, which initially felt like just audio description when text appears onscreen, but then I saw the subtitles were going out of sync. Since the menu said they were for the regular audio options, I selected the regular DD5.1 audio, and saw those were correctly in sync, so it’s odd that the narration is at slightly different moments in the film between audio tracks. I’ve never seen that before, and I’m not sure what the reasoning is for this. There’s a bit more to the enhanced soundtrack which I’ve mentioned in the extras below, but it didn’t explain why the dialogue is placed slightly differently.
The extras are so thin on the ground and total around ten minutes:
- Introduction to soundtrack options (2:57): Not sure why it needs two different people to voice slightly different audio descriptive tracks. However, this shows how the enhanced soundtrack can give extra background narration from John Hull, himself, as to his situation.
- Notes on Notes On Blindness (2:11): A few comments about the film and John Hull, by directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney.
- Directing as a team (1:12): It’s very rare that a film has two directors, and usually it’s a bad sign if it’s not an animated movie with so much going on, but it worked for this one. Dan Skinner describes them as two halves of one whole.
- Lip synching (3:27): No live audio was recorded on set, and they had to play the tapes on-set so the actor mirror them.
- John and Marilyn (2:18): Talking about structure John’s audio recording into a narrative, and with Marilyn consulting on set. I found it strange that there was only 16 hours of audio recordings, when after all the years he made them, I assumed there were many more.
The menu subtly mixes clips from the film with some of the score’s incidental music. There’s a bog standard 12 chapters, and subtitles are in English.
Running time: 87 minutes
Released: October 24th 2016
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Redcode RAW (6K))
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Disc Format: DVD9
Directors: Peter Middleton and James Spinney
Producers: Mike Brett, Jo Jo Ellison, Peter Middleton, James Spinney and Alex Usborne
Screenplay: Peter Middleton and James Spinney
Music: James Ewers and Noah Wood
John Hull: Dan Skinner
Marilyn Hull: Simone Kirby
Himself (voice): John M Hull
Herself (voice): Marilyn Hull
Imogen: Miranda Beinart-Smith
Madge Hull: Eileen Davies
Lizzie: Mahalia Martin-Jones
Thomas: Sidney Nicholas Warbrick and Stanley John Warbrick
Young Imogen Hull: Lorelei Winterfrost
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.