Operation Hollywood

According to this Reuters report, former Hollywood Reporter staffer David Robb’s book Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies reveals that producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director John Woo regularly allow the Pentagon to censor their scripts in return for using military equipment in their films.

The Pentagon has the toys needed to make realistic films about war, terrorism, international intrigue. Collaborating with the brass can save studios bundles in production expenses. “And all a producer has to do to get that assistance is submit five copies of the script to the Pentagon for approval, make whatever script changes the Pentagon suggests, film the script exactly as approved by the Pentagon and prescreen the finished product for Pentagon officials before it’s shown to the public.”

Plenty of producers do so gladly, writes Robb. It’s “Hollywood’s dirtiest little secret.” Robb asserts that Jerry Bruckheimer, for one, rolls over just about every time the Pentagon calls for script changes in his big, pro-military films, as when the Navy demanded that Kelly McGillis’ character in “Top Gun” be made a civilian contractor to cool down the suggestion that she and Tom Cruise were having against-regulations fun out of uniform. Elsewhere, Robb laments Dan Goldberg’s eagerness to please the Pentagon in the course of making “Stripes,” turning a slightly subversive comedy into a not nearly so funny recruitment poster for the Army.

Plenty of directors do as well, like when, Robb reports, John Woo shed scenes from “Windtalkers” that didn’t please the military. One, Robb writes, involved a character named the Dentist who dug gold fillings out of the mouths of dead Japanese soldiers. Marine Corps liaison staff objected that this would show the service in a bad light, as would the suggestion that Marines had orders to kill Navajo codetalkers at risk of falling into enemy hands. Neither, the Marines protested, could ever have happened — never mind that the National Archives has footage of Marines relieving Japanese corpses of their teeth and that Congress’ resolution honoring Navajo veterans recognized that they were guarded by Marines “whose role was to kill them in case of imminent capture.”

But the truth doesn’t matter to the Pentagon, Robb persuasively argues. What matters is that the military be shown in a good light — and, even more importantly, that films do the work of helping “recruit and retain” service personnel.

In other words, that films made with Pentagon assistance be good propaganda.


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