Foley Artists are the Actors of Sound, A Documentary Review

20 Feb

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Coming to VOD and iTunes on Feb 27th.
Also continuing to play at select Film Festivals. Please check local listings.

Actors of Sound is a solid, insightful and fascinating documentary about one stage of the process which makes cinema come alive. Without it, the cute waddle we hear from E.T. the Extraterrestrial moving about would not be there. These days, part of the sound mix is created on the computer and fully assembled. Back in the golden age of cinema, the talents had to innovate. To come up these nuances with limited resources and splicing magnetic tape was a real thing! In the early days of cinema, the work was difficult. People were most likely recruited from radio since timing was important — and the history of this art can be traced to the pioneer of the craft, Jack Foley.

Other talents this full-length feature includes are John Roesch, the mastermind behind giving life to E.T., and Ross Taylor who led the work behind The Exorcist. Twenty-three talents from around the world were interviewed. Each of them offers their own unique perspectives on how this work is done in their native country. India is unique because of the extravagance some of their films are made. Back home in America, Kitty Malone became the first female Foley Artist to work in Hollywood. She did all the dancing we hear (not see) in Liza Minnelli’s movies. They were not recorded as the microphones were intent on catching the vocal tracks than ambience.

This feature is not about the secrets. Instead, it’s about the life and times of those dedicated to this craft. It also becomes part of the romance. Relationships emerged and having a connection to the actors in the film is just as important. A lot of these talents become the celebrity when recording the same footfall they make. These audio artists describe the work as a joy. This exploration shows people “playing in a sandbox and having fun” with it. They are essentially painting a picture with sound.

A gentle plot helps guides viewers to this visual thesis. The threat of going completely digital — using huge sound libraries to put in each sound we hear in a television show or film — to replace these talents is mentioned. An answer is given: the human element is important. The pros and cons are weighed in. Although the stance these talents reveal is obvious, hopefully a revolution can happen to keep this aspect of film/tv production ongoing.

5 Stars out of 5

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