Abstract: Truths and Lies about the Presence of Music in the Documentary Film Tradition

Renan Paiva Chaves (University of Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil)

The study of sound in documentary films has been growing in recent years. Although theoretical and historiographical approaches are still in an embryonic state compared to studies of sound in fiction films, a fertile field of debate is emerging. A sign of development in this field is the recent emergence of theoretical and historiographical controversies, suspicions and polemics. Along this line, a primary concern relates to the ethical dimensions engendered by music in the construction of documentary narrative. Expressions like ‘music manipulates reality’, ‘music decreases objectivity’, ‘music manipulates the audience’s emotions’ and ‘music provides information and meaning that are not present in images’ are commonplace in debates of music in documentary films. This line of reasoning is not false in itself: as already noted by Plato and Aristotle, music has potential powers to perform tasks like the ones mentioned above. However, the problem with this perspective lies in the mistaken idea that there is an ontological problem in the relationship between music and a (supposed) documentary essence—an essence that tends to be structured around notions of objectivity, reality and truth—in a fiction–documentary opposition. A diachronic examination of the history of documentary films illuminates the transitory aspect of its stylistic, ethical and political concerns that invalidates the perspective guided by the idea of documentary essence. In my presentation, I intend to address the controversies, suspicions and polemical issues involving the presence of music in documentary narratives through a history of music in the documentary film tradition.

Renan Paiva Chaves has been conducting research on sound and music in documentary films under the financial support from FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation) since 2011. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Film Studies at the Institute of Arts at UNICAMP (University of Campinas, SP, Brazil) and has presented and published papers on his research topics at major South American congresses (SOCINE, AsAECA, ANPPOM, IASPM-AL) and in journals such as DOC On-line, Rebeca, Per Musi and ouvirOUver. His curriculum vitae can be accessed from the following link: http://lattes.cnpq.br/6402361140132539