‘Shape, Form, Colour’ … and Music: Abstraction, Meaning, and Nostalgia in 1960s Scottish Industrial Documentary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


By employing Benjamin Britten to score films like Coal Face (1935) and Night Mail (1936), the ‘father’ of the documentary, Scotsman John Grierson, used music to emphasize the genre’s potentially ‘magical’ qualities and ability to reveal deeper, more inspirational ‘truths’. He later helped found the Films of Scotland Committee that made similar films to promote Scottish industry, notably Seawards the Great Ships (1960), scored by Iain Hamilton, and The Heart of Scotland (1962) and The Big Mill (1963), scored by Frank Spedding. In I Remember, I Remember (1968), a compilation film produced by Scottish Television to celebrated his life’s work and influence, Grierson re-edited these films and removed all their commentaries, thus placing music and image centre stage. Focusing especially on the films’ I Remember incarnations, this article examines Grierson’s idea of ‘magical’ representation and its underpinning philosophical and political ideologies. Consideration is then given to how music was combined with image to create these representations and the meanings suggested by these audio-visual relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-426
Number of pages41
JournalMusic and Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


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