by Joel Best
M can do Foley using only hands and mouth and little bits of junk. He wants to work in the movies. I'm not always going to be some loser stockboy, M is always saying. That's just to tide me over until I find my way to Hollywood and make it in pictures. He wears this enormous wool coat even in the summer. The pockets are stuffed with the weirdest odds and ends. He constantly talks about going pro. Chopsticks, can of tuna, a wooden shoe, a matchbox filled with sand, balls of rubber bands, a horseshoe. That's just one of the coat's pockets. We hit the Rialto on Saturday night and M points to the end credits rolling across the screen. We have to wait and wait. I'm all, OK, key grip, electrician, costumes, carpenters, gaffer, best boy, how much longer do we have to sit here? M is all, Hold on, hold on, there.
- - -
J. D. Foley.
Born in Yorksville, NY, 1891.
Goes to public school with Arthur Murray, Burt Lahr, and Jimmy Cagney.
Meets Cary Grant, who's working at Coney Island as a stilt walker.
Moves to CA and becomes a stunt man.
Later invents the field of sound effects.
Is an expert in walking like the stars. Walking is possibly a Foley's most important job. Every film ever made is full of people walking around. You'd think there wouldn't be any problems with that, but inevitably it's the walking that requires re-recording.
Foley once says, "Women are the toughest to imitate, my two-hundred and fifty pounds may have something to do with it, but the important things is their steps come quicker and closer together. I get winded doing leading ladies. Jean Simmons is almost, not quite, the fastest on her screen feet in all of Hollywood. She's topped only by June Allyson.
"I can't keep up with her at all."
- - -
That's for me, M says, and finally, we get to file out of the theater. He looks like a bear in that coat of his. The ushers stare at us while sweeping up popcorn bags and empty Milk Dud boxes. It's ninety degrees outside. M can't possibly possess sweat glands. Or he's crazy, take your pick. What it is about Foley, most people don't know that everything you hear on the screen is produced in a room by specially trained technicians whose job it is to imitate life's audio track via the manipulation of props. This adds a level of illusion to the movies that is almost mystical. Arnold kicks robot butt and your ears register a clanging tumult, and your brain bakes up a gestaltic cake, one half sound, one half image. Only in reality it's that technician supplying the audio input because studio heads have long since determined the discord Arnold creates isn't 'real' enough.
Foley is manufacturing explosions by hammering old radiators. It's simulating a brutal stabbing by pumping watermelons with screwdrivers. Smack a frozen head of lettuce with a baseball bat and a skull is being crushed.
You gotta love the idea, M says as we're drinking beers on my front stoop a little later on. Hollywood is so fucking post-modern.
He cracks another beer and gets to talking about Lala Land.
I was out there a couple of years ago. Before I knew you, man. It was like beaming down to another planet. Everyone wants to look like a movie star. They have cell phones glued to their ears and million-dollar hair jobs. The guy spraying the sidewalks clean first thing in the morning wears an Armani suit. Hairdressers drive Ferraris. And dogs. You know, in Hollywood, you can take your dog anywhere? Restaurants, banks, grocery stores. Dogs are first-class citizens out on the coast.
He takes a couple of stones out of the wool coat's lowermost left-hand pocket. With these he produces a sound so remarkably close to that of a chirping cricket I suddenly feel we're in, I don't know, Kansas, not downtown Tulsa. He pulls out a length of leather belt and strokes it with the stones and I'm hearing a young girl walking through waist-high flowers. I mean, it's god damned awesome. I kid him a lot, but M has T-A-L-E-N-T.
Went to CA once, I tell him. After college. I wanted to find myself.
Just as well, M says. People who find themselves often wished they stayed lost.
I say, Ha ha.
He picks takes an empty beer can, steps on it, and tosses the flattened metal wad toward a car parked out on the street. Yuppie-mobile, a BMW that's way out-of-place for this side of town. We get lawyers and accountants down here wanting to score coke. The car alarm sounds, a forlorn wail. Two minutes, I tell M, and he's all, More like one, man. Tick tick tick. A well-dressed dude comes running down the sidewalk and points his keys at the screaming Beemer. The car alarm falls silent. Watch this, M whispers. The suit goes back to wherever he comes from. I'm counting in my head. 11, 12, 13, 14. M throws back his head and opens his throat and what comes out is dead-on, the Beemer's alarm. Five seconds of this and the suit comes running back down the street. M shuts up. The suit skids to a halt and looks around. We're sitting in shadows. From the sidewalk we're invisible. The suit looks around. He's not happy. I can hear him muttering, What the hell is this? He scratches his head, something I've never actually seen anyone do until this very moment. Then his nuts, which, sadly, I see more than enough of, thank you very much. Neither M nor I move an inch. Finally the suit shrugs and departs. I'm thinking M will mess with him a little bit more, but no. The suit no longer provides any interest. Instead, M proceeds to create sound effects like a magician on speed. Clicking tongue sims the timer of a bomb. Grinding teeth and slowly exhaled breath are the ocean beating eternity to death against the rocks. Fingernail dragged across the rough denim of his jeans is a windstorm. He's still got those little stones. Horse's hooves, the snap of a rifle bolt being thrown, the flare of a match. He can do a lot with stone, I kid you not.
Bravo, I tell him, and he kind of grins, though sadly.
Real Foley techs don't work this way, M says. They have a variety of props at their disposal. Little doors that open and close, boxes of metal and glass for car wrecks, a dozen different floor surfaces and crates of shoes for any scene that involves walking. Warehouses full of stuff that only they can touch. Their own kingdoms.
Hey, you'll get to Hollywood, man.
Now he's looking for something. A bigger rock, he says. How about that chunk of brick? I ask, and M says, Yeah. He examines the piece of brick I've found for him and takes aim.
Without Jack Donovan Foley, he says, movies just wouldn't be the same.
He lets fly at the Beemer's windshield. Bonk. I'm all, Damn, dude, until M shows me the brick still in his hand and says, Got you.
About the author:
Joel Best lives with his wife and son in upstate New York. His work has appeared in print and online publications such as Writers of the Future, Eclectica, Quick Fiction, and Strange Horizons.