Ben Affleck’s Argo is probably going to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards this coming Sunday, but even if it somehow loses out to Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty the film remains a tremendous success. All three of Affleck’s directorial efforts have received critical praise, and the acclaim and the box office have increased with each release, leading to this film’s seven Oscar nominations and $200+ million gross.
He may still be a young filmmaker, but it’s clear he has much knowledge and respect for film history and his contemporaries. His commentary for Argo is sprinkled with references and mentions of homage to past films, performers and directors, and along with the movie itself show him to be a director worth watching… and listening to.
Keep reading to see what I heard with this week’s Argo Commentary Commentary…
Commentators: Ben Affleck (director, actor) and Chris Terrio (writer)
1. The opening was done storyboard style for two reasons per Affleck. First, it was meant to tune the audience into the film’s “Hollywood quasi-comic tone.” Second, he also found it important “to contextualize the history, the politics” as well as possible into two minutes. “An audience that was educated about Iran would appreciate the movie more because they would have the context for it.”
2. There were apparently two million people at the airport when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran. His helicopter couldn’t even land.
3. This commentary was recorded after September 11th, 2012 as Affleck references the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.
4. Documents found by the Iranians during the assault on the US Embassy are currently on display in an Iranian museum.
5. A brief shot of a NYC poster on the wall was an intentional choice as Affleck explains it is “the briefest homage to 9/11 there… the notion that all of this stuff led to further events that were all part of the cycle that led to 9/11.”
6. The colored stripes in the hallways of the State Department were added by Henry Kissinger because he was always getting lost.
7. The production was allowed to film at the actual CIA headquarters. “We had to use visual effects to take down the post-9/11 barriers.” The extras were apparently very excited to shoot in the hallways, and once filming was complete agents swept the area for bugs and recording equipment.
8. Alan Arkin’s first appearance was filmed at Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house.
9. John Goodman’s reference to script A006 is an in-joke on Affleck’s part as that was the room # of his high school Drama classroom. “There are like, thirty people that will get that reference.”
10. Jack Kirby was the actual storyboard artist for the fake film.
11. The real Tony Mendez has a cameo with his family during the scene where the fake Tony Mendez (Affleck) is dropped off at the airport.
12. Mendez’s first stop in Turkey appears to be the Blue Mosque but Affleck used the interior of the Hagia Sophia. Apparently they’re right next door to each other.
13. Terrio notes that the Visa stamp that the official changes by hand from Kingdom of Iran to Islamic Republic of Iran was inspired by a visit to the Congo. “It always stuck in my head as an indicator of the fluidity of and the artifice that is a country, that one country can become another country just with the stroke of a pen.”
14. It took a special act of the Canadian legislature to approve the government creating fake passports for the real houseguests.
15. The children putting together the shredded documents and pictures didn’t actually reassemble the photos in real life.
16. One of the actors in the crowd scene at the bazaar was pushing Affleck for real. “I thought about, like, not having him in the scene,” he says. “And then I thought ‘No, he’s the guy that should be in the scene.’”
17. Affleck gave each of the actors playing the houseguests the option of creating back-stories for their character, but only Clea DuVall followed through with it.
18. Led Zeppelin agreed to the use of their song “When the Levee Breaks” on the condition that the scene show the needle dropping on the correct track. “I considered those reasonable demands,” says Affleck, even though it required the pickup shot be re-filmed.
19. The airport finale was filmed at the Ontario Airport in California which was beneficial for two reasons. One, there was an available wing no longer in use, and two, Los Angeles has a “massive Persian population. The community refers to it as Tehrangeles.”
20. The man holding the “Welcome home Bob Anders!” sign is actually Bob Anders.
Best in Commentary
- Affleck: “I took a leak next to Charlton Heston at the Golden Globes.”
- Affleck: “You don’t see John Goodman in a cardigan much.”
- Affleck: “And this! You know, I watched a couple episodes of The Fall Guy, and I watched the fight scenes and I got obsessed with like the fight moves and how indicated they were and over choreographed. And as viewers we didn’t mind that then and we have this whole different expectation of action scenes now.”
- Affleck: “If you’re still awake at the end of this commentary you can write in for a prize.”
Terrio doesn’t talk much, but he does offer some interesting observations as to his inspiration for various elements in the script. Affleck, by contrast, talks through most of the movie. He’s clearly (and understandably) proud of the film and extremely complimentary of the production design team, the wardrobe department and the CGI work that’s used more frequently here than most viewers would probably expect.
Argo is a fantastic film on its own merits, but the pair’s commentary, along with the Blu-ray’s wealth of featurettes and interviews offer a deeper and more detailed appreciation for what Affleck and team have accomplished.