J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, July 31, 2017

AAIFF ’17: A Foley Artist

The storied Central Motion Pictures Corporation (CMPM) is like both the Cinecitta and Shaw Brothers of Taiwan. Legendary auteurs like Hou Hsaio-hsien, Ang Lee, Edward Yang, and Tsai Ming-liang all started their careers there. They also produced plenty of crowd-pleasers, such as Eight Hundred Heroes and Cloud of Romance. Over the decades, Hu Ding-yi worked on all sorts of films there, but he might be the last of his breed. The sound effects master’s career becomes a vehicle for taking stock of the history of Taiwanese cinema in Wan-jo Wang’s A Foley Artist (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Asian American International Film Festival.

When Hu started with the CMPC, its apprenticeship program was almost as regimented as the military, but it offered the job security of IBM in its heyday. He rose through the ranks in the sound department, at a time when appreciation was growing for sound effects. Not surprisingly, many sound editors, audio engineers, composers, and dubbing specialists pay their respects to Master Hu. Probably the biggest name present is the eternally glamorous Sylvia Chang, who has surprisingly nice things to say about dubbing artists.

In fact, some of the most interesting sequences in Foley Artist, involve the craft of voice-dubbing, which was originally performed in Taiwan by recognizable radio personalities. Foley specialists like Hu also became quite resourceful scouring dumps and junkyards for cast-off items that could make desired sounds. Fittingly, sound editor-mixer Chen Chia-wei nicely emphasizes and isolates the sound effects Hu created, giving the audience a richly varied and fully audible sample of his talents. Although still professionally active, the industry has largely passed Hu by, which gives the film a tone of nostalgic melancholy.

Frankly, the more you know about Taiwanese cinema, the more you will get out of Foley Artist. We now have genuinely boundless respect for Mr. Hu, but we really want to see Eight Hundred Heroes. Evidently, it was a huge hit, but critics dismissed it as bloody jingoism. Sounds awesome, can we get a 4K rerelease, please? In fact, Wang’s respectful and well-researched documentary would nicely compliment a retrospective of CMPC films. Recommended for classic movie fans who have a sentimental affection for physical act of old school filmmaking, A Foley Artist screens Thursday (8/3) at the Village East, as part of this year’s AAIFF.

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