Conventions of Sound in Documentary

One point made in Conventions of Sound in Documentary by Jeffrey Ruoff was the analyse made of observational films that used poor audio. The current view is that is the audio is poor then it becomes useless and must be discarded. However it is interesting to me when they explained why sometimes poorly recorded audio can still be used. They explain this by stating that ‘poorly recorded scenes are included because of their central importance to the story’ (Ruoff, p. 28). This is an important lesson as it demonstrates the importance of the story in relation to the audio. Audio is very important but if the scene is important to the story but poor audio it may be the case where you have to put it in the documentary anyway.

Another point made that interested me in the Conventions of Sound in Documentary reading was in relation to music. The music, as was explained in the reading, in observational filmmaking is very similar to the classic Hollywood cinema. They state that music ‘provides continuity, covers up edits, facilitates changes of scenes, provides mood… and comments of the action’ (Ruoff, p. 33). Although I already knew most of this, it still interested me to how much music can be needed in observation or documentary filmmaking. Comparisons between documentary filmmaking and traditional fiction filmmaking can be made with regards to music. Both are attempting to provide continuity, cover up edits and provide mood. This is interesting as documentary filmmaking is supposed to be ‘reality’ however it can be argued that the use of music can dramatise the film. This is an important observation to make as it is important for the audience to know that with the use of techniques such as music and other techniques such as editing, the film can persuade an audience to what the filmmakers want the audience to feel, even though generally the idea is that a documentary would not try to influence the audience.

Ruoff, J, Conventions of Sound in Documentary, Cinema Journal, Volume 32, No. 3, (pp. 24-40). University of Texas Press.

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