LQCs: Foley Unreality and Fist Fights

The New Yorker, Anna Wiener, 27 Jun 2022: The Weird, Analog Delights of Foley Sound Effects

Subtitled: “E.T. was jello in a T-shirt. The Mummy was scratchy potpourri. For Foley artists, deception is an essential part of the enterprise.”

Here’s an article that discusses the common practice of installing movie sound effects in post-production. Most viewers don’t realize that even when scenes are filmed onstage, and especially when scenes are filmed in live locations, most of the sounds you hear — often including even the dialogue between characters! — is recorded later, and dubbed onto the film scenes.

The mundane example of this is, whenever a character in a movie walks down a public sidewalk, you hear a clop clop clop of their shoes on the sidewalk. It wasn’t recorded when filmed, and moreover would never be heard in real life. The sound was recorded by a “foley” artist, a person who in this case literally stands in a sound stage with a pair of shoes over a wooden board and makes the sound of the clop clop clop, timing the sounds to match the filmed scene, to make a recording that will be dubbed over the filmed scene.

This is a small example of the way films and TV amplify reality to meet naive audience expectations about how the world works. The extreme examples are how spaceships swoosh audibly past the viewer, or bank like jet aircraft as they fly through space. It’s all about entertainment, making audiences feel comfortable, and not depiction of reality.

My practice of posting here in late afternoon sometimes goes awry, when I am obliged to cut off, as I need to do now. More about this tomorrow.


30 Jun: Actually not a lot to say about the article, which focuses mostly on modern foley effects to create sounds for things that don’t exist, e.g. in animation, or in films with slightly surreal atmosphere. But here’s a passage that’s an example of what I was saying above:

When you hear somebody really get hit—and I’m not talking about professional prizefighters but regular idiots outside a bar—a lot of times it’s pretty underwhelming. But there is something about when it’s right, and it’s awful, and it makes you kind of squint—that’s what we were looking for. The ‘Raiders’ stuff is exquisite to the ear. It’s beautifully done. But it’s also hyperbolic in a kind of escapist way.”

The speaker is referring to Raiders of the Lost Ark. And this is a specific point I was going to make. When you watch old movies, from the 1930s and ’40s, fight scenes are almost laughably lame. The sound of men punching or socking each other is like punching a pillow. They look amateur. Nothing like the exaggerated dubbed sounds of fights in modern movies, the thwack thwack of baseball bats against slabs of meat. Which audiences have gotten used to. Which is what seems real to us now.

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