The Work of an Invisible Body: The Contribution of Foley Artists to On-Screen Effort
Lucy Fife Donaldson
Abstract: On-screen bodies are central to our engagement with film. As sensory film theory seeks to remind us, this engagement is sensuous and embodied: our physicality forms sympathetic, kinetic and empathetic responses to the bodies we see and hear. We see a body jump, run and crash and in response we tense, twitch and flinch. But whose effort are we responding to? The character’s? The actor’s? This article explores the contribution of an invisible body in shaping our responsiveness to on-screen effort, that of the foley artist. Foley artists recreate a range of sounds made by the body, including footsteps, breath, face punches, falls, and the sound clothing makes as actors walk or run. Foley is a functional element of the filmmaking process, yet accounts of foley work note the creativity involved in these performances, which add to characterisation and expressivity. Drawing on detailed analysis of sequences in Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972) and Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988) which foreground exertion and kinetic movement through dance and physical action, this article considers the affective contribution of foley to the physical work depicted on-screen. In doing so, I seek to highlight the extent to which foley constitutes an expressive performance that furthers our sensuous perception and appreciation of film.