Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Sound information

Back in the 1990s, on my first visit ever to beautiful County Kerry, the woman who would become the Missus brought me, among other places, to the spectacular Dingle Peninsula. It’s one of those long fingers of land, on the southwest coast of Ireland, that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean. Then, as now, a few modern holiday villages aside, the place is still amazingly free of runaway commercial over-development. As discussed on this web site before, it is a popular tourist destination and was “discovered” at the beginning of the 1970s because of a movie filmed there by Sir David Lean. It was called Ryan’s Daughter.

Though a Mayo woman, the Missus has been in love with Kerry for most of her life. And that is why it is one of the first places she brought me during my early regular visits to her in Dublin. On that first drive through Kerry, on the road between Tralee and Dingle, she made a point of stopping in the village of Annascaul, and she dragged me (okay, maybe not exactly “dragged”) into a pub with a bright red sign and a bright red door. It was called Dan Foley’s, and she wanted me to listen to the men talking over their pints. She wanted me to hear the Irish language (a flavor of Gaelic) spoken in its natural habitat. Dan Foley’s Pub is frequently seen on postcards for sale in shops all over Kerry.

But what I really want to talk about is movie credits. (Are you keeping up?) Those of us who make a point of staying in our seats until the last bit of celluloid has spooled out of the projector are accustomed to seeing a lot of strange job titles roll by in the ever-growing lists of jobs that need to be done to make a movie. Some titles are a bit fanciful, like “bug wrangler,” which I can recall from at least one horror movie I have seen. But some titles appear in the credits of every single feature film that comes out, ones like “grip,” “gaffer” and “best boy.” People who have an interest in these things know well what these jobs are. Others presumably have left the cinema before they roll by or else are left wondering whether the “best boy” is a vestige from pre-politically correct times or simply the producer’s latest lover. (For the record, the grips move things around the set, the gaffer is the head electrician and the best boy is his or her assistant.)

Another one of those strange titles is the Foley artist. Now, I have known for years what Foley artists do. They create sounds to be recorded on the movie’s soundtrack. When you hear your favorite movie star’s footsteps as he or she walks down a dark alley, the sounds were almost certainly not recorded at the same time the scene was filmed. For all kinds of aesthetic and practical reasons, they are added later. But it had never occurred to me to wonder why the people who do this are called Foley artists. But I finally and unexpectedly got the answer to my unasked question the other evening on a Halloween-themed general interest Irish TV show called Nationwide.

A woman named Caoimhe Doyle was interviewed and identified as Ireland’s only Foley artist. She has more than 100 credits on movies and television shows, including On the Edge, Disco Pigs, The 51st State, Reign of Fire, The Good Thief, Goldfish Memory, The Actors, Ella Enchanted, Becoming Jane, Knocked Up, I’m Not There, Eastern Promises, Across the Universe, The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Men Who Stare at Goats. She gave an entertaining demonstration of how she made sounds to accompany such action as fists pounding against people’s bodies (dropping a phone book or punching a slab of ham), breaking bones (twisting a bunch of celery) or squealing tires (pushing a rubber thing along a damp floor).

By way of introduction, she explained that the term Foley artist came from one Jack Donovan Foley, who worked in Hollywood beginning in the silent era. She said she believed he started out as a janitor, but the classic story about him involved Stanley Kubrick and the classic 1960 movie Spartacus. Apparently, it was discovered that the sound had been botched in a scene that involved a cast of hundreds, if not thousands, of actors marching as slaves in chains. It would have cost thousands of dollars to reshoot, and Kubrick was on the verge of relocating back to Italy to do so. But Foley stepped in and provided the sound they needed by simply jangling a set of keys.

A helpful biography on explains that Foley was born Yorkville, New York, in 1891. He grew up in Coney Island and went to school with the likes of James Cagney, Arthur Murray and Bert Lahr. He also knew Cary Grant there. As a young man, he moved to California and wound up settling in the picturesque town of Bishop, which is nestled at the north end of the Owens Valley between the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. He worked in a hardware store but also did some theater work and writing as well. He also did location scouting in the area for westerns, using his movie connections to help the local economy. He got started with sound effects when he added sound to a silent version of Showboat for Universal, in order to compete with a new movie from Warner Bros. with sound, called The Jazz Singer.

Foley died in 1967 in Los Angeles. He estimated, at one point, that he had walked in excess of 5,000 miles creating the sounds of footsteps for every actor from Cagney to Audie Murphy to Rock Hudson to Tony Curtis and Marlon Brando. He even provided this function for female actors, noting that June Allyson and Jean Simmons had the fastest feet on screen in all of Hollywood.

In her TV interview, Caoimhe Doyle added one bit of information that didn’t mention. She said that Foley was the son of immigrants from Dingle. Once I heard that, everything fell into place for me. So that gorgeous corner of Ireland has at least one other major connection to cinematic history, in addition to David Lean’s foray to make Ryan’s Daughter. I have no idea if Jack Foley was a relation to the people who had the pub in Annascaul, but it’s probably a good bet. This is, after all, a small country.

So it is entirely fitting and appropriate that my one visit (to date) to Foley’s Pub happened because I was brought in to listen to something.

-S.L., 5 November 2009

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