Sunday, March 03, 2013

Was This the Most Shocking Thing About 'Argo'?

I finally saw "Argo" last night, and enjoyed it. It was a well-paced nailbiter and seemed to capture the time period perfectly — or at least, the way we collectively remember that time period. Apparently Ben Affleck took some liberties with the facts (the Revolutionary Guard wasn't literally chasing down that airplane with guns drawn), but I usually give "true story" films a pretty wide berth. BuboBlog Rating: 3.5 asterisks (out of 4).

Did it deserve to win Best Picture? I can't really say, since I haven't seen any of the other nominees. Having three kids in the house has really taken a toll on my movie watching (the last film we saw in the theater was "Looper," a week before Lulu was born).

What did surprise me in "Argo" was the shot of the Hollywood sign that appears early in the film. I had no idea the landmark was allowed to deteriorate to that degree in the late 1970s.


It turns out that when the sign was erected in 1923 to promote a housing development (it then read "Hollywoodland"), it was only meant to last a year and a half. No wonder it was a wreck after five decades.

From the Hollywood Sign's Wikipedia page:
In 1978, in large part because of the public campaign to restore the landmark by shock rocker Alice Cooper (who donated the missing O), the [Hollywood Chamber of Commerce] set out to replace the severely deteriorated sign with a more permanent structure. Nine donors gave $27,700 each (totaling $249,300) to sponsor replacement letters made of steel, guaranteed to last for many years. 
The new letters were 45 feet tall and ranged from 31 to 39 feet wide. The new version of the sign was unveiled on Hollywood's 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978, before a live television audience of 60 million people.
Since "Argo" was set in 1979-1980, that means the shot of the broken sign is another example of Affleck taking liberties. But the image speaks to the astounding level of urban decay at the time.

New York almost filed for bankruptcy in the 1970s. Times Square was riddled with porn theaters and pawn shops. And rivers in Cleveland and Detroit would occasionally catch fire. San Francisco even bricked the Fleishhacker Pool, for chrissake.

Against that backdrop, letting an old ad for a real-estate development crumble probably didn't seem all that remarkable.