They’re shooting the remake of Hairspray here in Toronto – nonsensical given the Baltimore-specificity of everything John Waters does. Except of course he really isn’t “doing” this version. John Travolta (separately in the news these days) and a cast of thousands are the ones doing it.

And they’re shooting it along Dupont, in the gargantuan former Mono Lino Typesetting factory that fills me with self-recrimination every time I pass it: Why haven’t I written about it? What if they tear it down? That hasn’t happened yet, because this week the building has become the home of WYZT Broadcasting. Those call letters are sure going to sound different in Canadian English. But there’s a somewhat bigger issue:

Brick building has sign over entrance reading WZYT BROADCASTING in Arial Black, with two vintage cars parked on the street next to orange pylons

Yes, the Hairspray location shoot uses giant typography typeset in Arial – the gruesome knockoff of Helvetica that stands in for real fonts or is used when you want to prove to the world you don’t know the first thing about typography. The variant in use here appears be an electronically-scrunched Arial Black, and the letterspacing is atrocious.

Just one more pesky detail, though.

Arial was designed in 1982 and started to be used in earnest by the dawn of the ’90s due to its default installation in Microsoft Windows. But Hairspray takes place in the 1960s, and, as the well-preserved antique cars in this shot demonstrate, production designer David Gropman has gone to some lengths to maintain historical accuracy. We wouldn’t want a 1989 Dodge Caravan ferrying Edna Turnblad around, would we?

It is obviously important to make sure that props are accurate and of the right vintage when shooting a period piece. But fonts are just letters; they all look the same and they have all existed unchanged for as long as movie producers can remember. Because typographic ahistoricism actually never happens in the moviesat all.

While anyone could notice a too-modern car in a ’60s comedy, certainly no one will ever notice a mistake like this, and no permanent record of such mistake will be made – at all.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.09.21 12:44. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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