They make gravel crunch underfoot.They make bullets ricochet off of brick walls. They make bones snap at the hands of a bloodthirsty monster. They recreate the sounds a boom mic could never register, and yet they are relegated to the background of cinema. There is no Academy Award that recognizes the work of foley artists, but they are nevertheless an integral cog in the cinematic mechanism. Actors of Sound, the latest Kickstarter-funded documentary from Lalo Molina, crafts a compelling argument for the celebration of the overlooked talent that makes filmmaking possible.
A necessity in order to create the illusion of cinema, foley work heightens the theatergoing experience by supporting the visuals and filling the empty void with magical sounds that we so often take for crafted. Either born out of genius or sheer happenstance, these men and women are able to create the impossible, and Molina captures just how passionately they take pride in the fruits of their labor. The documentary sees foley work for what it is – an intricate, underappreciated art form.
“Each foley artist is unique, with individualized methods, tools of the trade, and philosophies…“
Actors of Sound is at the top of its game when it allows the viewer to peek behind the curtain and learn a few tricks of the trade. We are shown side-by-side comparisons of the final product versus what madness had to occur on a foley stage in order to make it all possible. As one might expect, the sounds aren’t always a direct representation of what’s being presented on-screen. A couple of overturned mugs can become a horse’s gallop; a pair of workman’s gloves flapped just so can become a flock of birds. To create E.T.’s bodily movements, Jello was squished about inside of a tied-off t-shirt.
Because executives don’t see their value to the industry, foley artists are in danger of being replaced by computers. Dealing with changing tides and shrinking budgets, more and more film studios are considering the pivot to digital sound editing. However, as the film’s subjects continually demonstrate, so much of foley work is tied to the human aspect of the equation. Machines aren’t able to replicate the delicate nuances of the art form.
“…Bollywood pros, who operate in a form that is even more dependent on sound…”
Perhaps this discussion overstays its welcome before rounding out its feature-length runtime, but the added filler has its own merits. As it is reaching its conclusion, the film expands its scope to a global study, showing the subtle differences in the craft around the world. By then, we’ve all but exhausted our conversations with the same interviewees, and it comes as a welcome change when we hear from Bollywood pros, who operate in a form that is even more dependent on sound than American cinema.
Anyone who is even remotely knowledgeable about film knows about foleying in an abstract sense, but Actors of Sound provides a detailed and undeniably human glimpse into the logistics of the process at work. Each foley artist is unique, with individualized methods, tools of the trade, and philosophies about the very nature of the profession. Lalo Molina’s charming, heartfelt love letter to cinema’s unsung heroes might not radically change the way anyone goes to the movies, but it will certainly encourage its viewers to appreciate the medium of film from a different vantage point.
Actors of Sound (2018) Written and directed by Lalo Molina. Starring: Gregg Barbanell, Caoimhe Doyle, Mitchell Kohen, David Leae Fein, Catherine Harper, Martin Langenbach, Elisha Birnbaum, Gigi Chaves, Kitty Malone.
7 out of 10