Adventuresome docu “Blinding” pairs oral histories from three Toronto residents who’ve experienced extreme shifts in perception — one resulting in literal blindness, others figurative due to harsh police and military experiences — with expressionistic visuals beautifully hand-colored on hand-processed 16mm. Always interesting, especially aesthetically, the pic’s ultimate point and impact are a bit fuzzy. But experimental filmmaker Steve Sanguedolce’s feature should appeal to cinematheques and other avenues open to accessibly avant-garde fare.
Subjects are Jackie O’Keefe, an urban beat cop; now-retired Canadian armed services pilot Jamie Watson; and writer Ryan Knighton, who lost his sight in adulthood and offers the most intellectualized perspective on his momentous life change. He’s thought through some interesting ideas about how the world narrows for the visually impaired, on the disabled as a “fake class” of grouped citizenry, and the pluses and minuses of relationships with the sighted. “Blindness is in many ways quite boring,” he notes without apology.
The other twosubjects, by contrast, knowingly entered into dangerous professions, and suffered traumatic effects from witnessing disturbing events.
O’Keefe has trouble shaking images of the crimes she dealt with, like a child pornography case or a baby abandoned in freezing weather. “All you see all day long are people at their worst,” she says. The experiences have left here with a distrust of humanity that has poisoned her personal relationships.
Watson, now a commercial pilot, is a confessed adrenaline junkie who stuck with military service for 12 years. But the stress that led many comrades to substance abuse, anxiety attacks and even suicide didn’t leave him untouched, particularly after he witnessed massacres in Rwanda.
Rather than being a straight downer, the docu suggests these experiences as demonstrations of human adaptability under unforeseen, challenging circumstances. But unlike a similar multiple life-testimony exercise such as Jessica Yu’s “Protagonist,” “Blinding” doesn’t really weave its threads together in a way that points toward a coherent unifying idea.
Still, the mix of archival materials from various sources (homemovies, surveillance and stock footage) and dialogue-free staged vignettes (actors portray all principals, save the onscreen Watson) would be intriguing even without Sanguedolce’s heavily worked visual fillips. Beyond color that has a solarized affect, images are scratched, streaked and blotted. His sound design encompasses an (uncredited) electronic score.