I have to tip my hat to the unsung hero of moviedom…the lowly Foley Artist. This is the person who spends every waking hour trying to conjure up a sound to replicate a punch in the gut, a broken window, even footsteps coming down a partially wet street.
However, I have to say that I keep hearing the exact same sound in almost every action movie, and its making me wonder how hard this person might actually be working. Pick a major or small battle scene from any movie. It doesn’t really matter which movie, just find one. OK, I’ll give you one…The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The scene is the Helm’s Deep Battle. I have to pinpoint the exact spot, but there is a scene where an Elf gets shot and falls down off the tower. The sound is the person yelling “argh!” If you listen, you will recall this exact sound in almost every other movie with a person falling.
Now after a little research, I found that there is a name for this sound is called the “Wilhelm Scream”. It was originally used in a movie in 1951, called “The Distant Drums”. You can see more about this at http://www.hollywoodlostandfound.net/wilhelm/. It seems that originally it was a signature sound of Ben Burtt, then later a sound effect homage. It is getting to the point now where the sound has been used so many times, it might be time to retire it.
Every action movie that has a person falling some sizable distance uses this sound. I remember watching the original Battlestar Galactica series, and after watching three episodes, the space battle action got a bit repetitive because they used the same 6 explosions video, and 4 explosion sounds. Talk about cheapening the wow-factor.
I wonder now whether this has become a not-so hidden inside joke for Hollywood. There is a director who does things like this in his movies, Sam Raimi. He loves the idea of using “Fake Shemps”. When the Three Stooges were filming movies, apparently, they worked on quite a few at the same time (the hard working era), and Shemp Howard died which left quite a few holes in the movies. Well, they apparently used a look-alike, but you never saw his face. Sam Raimi does this on purpose in each of his movies, and at the end of some, he gives credits to these actors under the name “fake shemps”. Its possible that the foley does this on purpose as a joke. When I catch one in a movie, I usually get a chuckle out of it.
Well in this case, I hope that the person who’s voice they used in the 1970′s to record the famous “argh” sound is getting major bankable cash, because he is truly the hardest working um…well I guess he himself is not the hardest working person, but his work hasn’t stopped finding its way into my movies.