I like when directors get cute with nostalgia. Ben Affleck does just that in Argo (2012), even deploying the ’70s-era Warner Brothers opening-credit branding with its groovy animation and era-specific iconography. Usually this is a sign that you’re getting a period piece – one where all the nitty-gritty details are on point.
Argo is a special kind of historical fiction. It’s a Best Picture Oscar winner about the Iran hostage crisis during the Carter and Reagan eras. It tells the little-known story of the extraction of those hostages by Tony Mendez (played by Affleck, who also directed the film). Mendez is a CIA operative who creates a fake science-fiction movie as a cover (casting the hostages as location scouts and miscellaneous crew) to complete the rescue mission. Of course, some of the particulars are accentuated for dramatic effect. And the watch on Affleck’s wrist isn’t so much accentuated as it is flat-out wrong.
Why We’re Watching
Argo is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It’s also become known, in watch-loving circles, for having one of the most blatant horological gaffes in cinematic history. Here on Watching Movies, we’ve addressed some films (like House of Gucci or The Big Short) that feature less than period-accurate watches, But in those, the watches don’t seem so out of place that they break your suspension of disbelief.
In Argo, it’s different. The movie is set between 1979 and 1981, a time when Rolex divers were known for their jangly bracelets, aluminum bezels, and matte dials. These are the watches we see today with bezels that have gone full-faded ghost, lume plots turned to a creamy color, and bracelets stretched from years of use and abuse. They’re also sized in the sweet-spot 40mm range.
To mitigate the damage (or charm, depending on who you ask), Rolex spent years improving production and materials processes before unveiling its modern non-stretch bracelet-and-clasp combos in the mid 2000s (and non-fading ceramic bezel inserts). In 2008, it unveiled its most capable commercially available diver ever. It went deeper than the Sea-Dweller and was thus aptly named the Deepsea Sea-Dweller. In a big, beefy, and chunky 44mm case, it featured a patented Ringlock system to aid against the pressures of deep dives. This is advertised right on the outer edges of the dial.
But why am I droning on about a modern Rolex sport watch in the middle of a story about a ’70s and ’80s period piece? Because this watch, released more than 30 years after the events themselves, is what Affleck wears in Argo.
Urban legend has it that the props team delivered a replica vintage Submariner for Affleck to wear, but that he preferred having the real deal. The solution was apparently to buy a brand-new, ultra-modern (and ultra-large) Deepsea from the store. Hey, he’s the director, so I guess he gets to call the shots even if they defy the laws of time. I’m just saying, the first Delorean was released in 1981 – anything is possible.
When We’re Watching
Shortly after Mendez strategizes an extraction plan at the CIA offices, the scan shifts to Mendez alone at home, eating dinner in front of the television and taking a phone call from his son who’s sitting on a bed with era-appropriate Star Wars bed sheets. Mendez holds the phone to his ear with his watch-bearing arm, giving us a clear view of the Deepsea with its modern Rolex case construction and generally massive profile [00:22:20]. In a few closeups, you can see the modern Rolex clasp, which is markedly different in appearance than the vintage variety. It takes a lot to make Affleck’s wrist look small – but the Deepsea pulls it off.
Shortly after this scene, we find Mendez in LA in a trailer – complete with seemingly period-correct film props, and magazines galore – with a Hollywood makeup artist played by John Goodman. Mendez is talking through his idea to create a fake film called Argo to cover the extraction effort. He’s wearing a tightly fitted shirt with short-short sleeves, which means all 44mm of stainless steel are in clear view in a wide shot [00:27:45]. This scene is important because it’s when Goodman delivers his now-famous line, “So you want to come to Hollywood, act like a big shot without doing anything – you’ll fit right in.”
Argo (starring Ben Affleck) is directed by Ben Affleck with props by Michael Sexton. It’s available to stream on Netflix and to rent or buy on iTunes or Amazon.