Oiling the wheels of documentary: understanding the contribution of music, voice and sound in films about oil.

Dr Annette Davison (Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh, UK)

Shell has been commissioning synch sound films about oil since the 1930s, many of which were produced by the in-house Film Unit (established in 1934 at the recommendation of John Grierson). In this paper I attempt to produce something akin to a typology of Shell’s oil films up until the 1970s, in which I explore the contribution made by music and sound. Technology obviously played a role in the development of this contribution, as well as political and commercial agendas, world events, and – arguably – developments in fiction cinema. In addition, I will explore whether such a thing as ‘house style’ exists in relation to Shell and its various competitors and allies, in relation to the sound worlds of their documentaries.

Annette Davison is senior lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh. Her research is focused primarily on music for screen. Recent work has explored the place of television title sequences in high production values serials, and in regular viewers’ relationship with them. She is currently participating in the Leverhulme International Network concerning cultural transfer in screen adaptations of Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, and recently began to explore music in industrial films.