Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies / Edition 1

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The only thing Hollywood likes more than a good movie is a good deal. For more than fifty years producers and directors of war and action movies have been getting a great deal from America’s armed forces by receiving access to billions of dollars worth of military equipment and personnel for little or no cost. Although this arrangement considerably lowers a film’s budget, the cost in terms of intellectual freedom can be quite steep. In exchange for access to sophisticated military hardware and expertise, filmmakers must agree to censorship from the Pentagon.

As veteran Hollywood journalist David L. Robb shows in this revealing insider’s look into Hollywood’s "dirtiest little secret," the final product that moviegoers see at the theater is often not just what the director intends but also what the powers-that-be in the military want to project about America’s armed forces. Sometimes the censor demands removal of just a few words; other times whole scenes must be scrapped or completely revised. What happens if a director refuses the requested changes? Robb quotes a Pentagon spokesman: "Well I’m taking my toys and I’m going home. I’m taking my tanks and my troops and my location, and I’m going home." That can be quite a persuasive threat to a filmmaker trying to keep his movie within budget.

Robb takes us behind the scenes during the making of many well-known movies. From The Right Stuff to Top Gun and even Lassie, the list of movies in which the Pentagon got its way is very long. Only when a director is determined to spend more money than necessary to make his own movie without interference, as in the case of Oliver Stone in the creation of Platoon or Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now, is a film released that presents the director’s unalloyed vision.

For anyone who loves movies and cares about freedom of expression, Operation Hollywood is an engrossing, shocking, and very entertaining book.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Every year, Hollywood producers ask the Pentagon for help in making films, seeking everything from locations and technical advice to Blackhawk helicopters and nuclear-powered submarines. The military will happily oblige, it says in an army handbook, so long as the movie "aid[s] in the recruiting and retention of personnel." The producers want to make money; the Defense Department wants to make propaganda. Former Hollywood Reporter staffer Robb explores the conflicts resulting from these negotiations in this illuminating though sometimes tedious study of the military-entertainment complex over the last 50 years. Robb shows how, in the Nicholas Cage film Windtalkers, the Marine Corps strong-armed producers into deleting a scene where a Marine pries gold teeth from a dead Japanese soldier (a historically accurate detail). And in The Perfect Storm, the air force insisted on giving the Air National Guard credit for rescuing a sinking fishing boat, instead of the actual Coast Guard heroes. Even seemingly flawless recruiting vehicles had troubles: in Top Gun, the navy demanded Tom Cruise's love interest be changed from a military instructor to a civilian contractor (fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel being a no-no). At its worst, the author argues, the Pentagon unscrupulously targets children; Robb reveals how the Defense Department helped insert military story lines into the Mickey Mouse Club. To help, Robb suggests a schedule of uniform fees by which producers could rent aircraft carriers, F-16s and the like. It's an intriguing idea, though producers can go it alone: as Robb points out, blockbusters Forrest Gump, An Officer and a Gentleman and Platoon were all made without military assistance. Agent, Michael Hamilburg. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Although the U.S. military has no constitutional authorization to help or hinder the making of commercial films, the various branches of the armed services, the Department of Defense, and intelligence organizations have offices to make deals with filmmakers, reveals Robb, a freelance journalist thrice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In exchange for military hardware, personnel, and location filming on bases or ships, the military attempts to modify scripts. Additionally, it will monitor films with which it has no real connection. To Robb, this is de facto censorship and an irregular use of taxpayer money. The military's goal of supporting stories that always present it favorably and thus become recruitment tools is verified by Phil Strub, head of the Pentagon's film liaison office, who is quoted as saying, "There's no question that we do things to influence public opinion and to help recruiting and retention." In addition, Robb cites sample letters from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. Condemning those who yield to the military's efforts to use films as propaganda, Robb praises directors who have successfully resisted, including Robert Aldrich (Attack), Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman), Clint Eastwood (Heartbreak Ridge), and Kevin Costner (13 Days). This is a fully documented broadside fit for all public and academic libraries.-Kim Holston, American Inst. for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, Malvern, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591021827
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 4/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 350
  • Sales rank: 1,296,375
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Robb (Beverly Hills, CA), an award-winning freelance journalist who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize three times, has published articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Daily News, The Nation, LA Weekly, Salon.com, and Brill’s Content. For many years he was a labor and legal reporter for The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 13
Acknowledgments 23
Introduction 25
Ch. 1 Censoring James Bond 29
Tomorrow never dies
Ch. 2 "A commercial for us" 33
Clear and present danger
Ch. 3 "Discrimination against speech because of its message is presumed to be unconstitutional" 41
Countermeasures - the unproduced movie
The last detail
Cinderella liberty
Ch. 4 "Revisionist history" 53
Thirteen days
The perfect storm
Ch. 5 Changing history 59
Ch. 6 Bending over backward 67
Independence Day
G. I. Jane
Ch. 7 "The producers will 'punch it up' in any manner we dictate" 73
Jurassic Park III
Ch. 8 "The mooning of a president by a uniformed soldier is not acceptable cinematic license" 77
Forrest Gump
Ch. 9 Rewriting Renaissance man 81
Ch. 10 "It's all in the negotiations" : the films of Jerry Bruckheimer 91
Black Hawk down
Pearl Harbor
Top gun
Crimson tide
Ch. 11 "Show stoppers" 101
Air Force one
Ch. 12 Self-censorship is still censorship 105
The Tuskegee airmen
The wall
A dangerous life
Ch. 13 The first amendment doesn't always come first 113
Hearts in Atlantis
Ch. 14 Approval denied 117
Citizen Cohn
Fail safe
Mars attacks
Space cowboys
Memphis belle
The General's daughter
Sergeant Bilko
Courage under fire
Lone star
Broken arrow
The Pentagon wars
Ch. 15 "Dishonest propaganda" 123
My father, my son
Fields of fire
Ch. 16 Sanitizing JAG 131
Ch. 17 "A 45-minute commercial for marine aviation" 137
Pensacola : wings of gold
Gardens of stone
Ch. 18 Bending the rules 143
Silver wings
Executive decision
Family of spies
Ch. 19 "I want page six and seven completely thrown out or you don't get to use our aircraft carrier" 149
The agency
The sum of all fears
In the company of spies
Ch. 20 Turning vodka into water 153
The presidio
Ch. 21 Censorship : the final frontier 163
Star trek IV
Ch. 22 Almost sunk by the Navy 171
The hunt for Red October
No way out
Ch. 23 Turning movies into recruiting posters 177
The right stuff
The final countdown
Air Force one
Flight of the intruder
The hunt for Red October
Top gun
Behind enemy lines
Deep impact
In the Army now
Airport '77
D-Day : the sixth of June
Second to none - the unproduced movie
To hell and back
Take her down
Ch. 24 "Editorial control over the product" 189
JAG - the unproduced movie
Ch. 25 Changing Stripes 191
Ch. 26 An officer, but not a gentleman 197
An officer and a gentleman
Ch. 27 "Writing the scene to the Admiral's specifications" 205
Raise the Titanic
Ch. 28 Join the Navy - be indicted 213
Final countdown
Clear and present danger
Good morning, Vietnam
Ch. 29 Join the Army - be indicted 221
The General's daughter
McHale's Navy
Ch. 30 Clint Eastwood versus the Pentagon 227
Heartbreak Ridge
Ch. 31 "Is that not propaganda?" 241
A rumor of war
Ch. 32 Sanitizing The great Santini 247
Ch. 33 "A wonderful public relations tool" 261
Ch. 34 Mooning the Pentagon 267
Ch. 35 Let there not be light 273
Maria's lovers
Ch. 36 "The propaganda value of the film" 277
The Green Berets
Ch. 37 Bowing to political pressure 285
Blood alley
Ch. 38 Erasing Private Pedro 287
Battle cry
Ch. 39 "A shameful attempt to impose censorship on a film" 297
Ch. 40 Lassie wants you to join the Army 303
Ch. 41 Babes in arms 307
The Mickey Mouse Club
Independence Day
Steve Canyon
West Point
Men of Annapolis
Ch. 42 Babes in gas chambers 315
Devil pups - the unproduced movie
Ch. 43 The Cy Roth story 321
Air strike
Ch. 44 "Cooperation by the United States Navy should evince a certain reciprocity in making changes in the script" 329
Hellcats of the Navy
Ch. 45 Even good men do bad things : the Frank McCarthy story 335
Three brave men
Ch. 46 Covering up the cover-up 345
The court-martial of Billy Mitchell
Ch. 47 Religiously incorrect 351
The proud and the profane
Ch. 48 Torpedoed by the Navy 353
Admiral Rickover - the unproduced movie
Supercarrier - the canceled TV show
Ch. 49 Heroes and villains 361
Conclusion 365
Sources 369
Index 373
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  • Posted October 12, 2009

    Interesting, yet flawed, treatment of Pentagon involvement in films

    This book delves into a topic that the general public rarely thinks about, namely the participation of the armed forces in the making of feature films. Although the participation has gone on for decades, this is the first book that lists many of the negotiations that have gone on between film producers and the military to get movies to the screen. Sometimes these negotiations are successful and sometimes not. For the film buff, it's interesting to see the give-and-take that has gone on behind the scenes with many Hollywood blockbusters (including suprising titles like "Jurassic Park III") in order to get Pentagon assistance. Often the military demands lines be re-written, scenes be dropped, etc. to get help, and this leads to the biggest problem with the book. The author engages in much hand-wringing over this because he thinks this is censorship. Clearly, this is not in line with any mainstream person's definition of the word. The military is under no obligation to aid any film producer. If it does, then it is entitled to make some requests and demands. If the film producer doesn't like that, he is free to make his film elsewhere. Merely making demands for re-writes is nothing new in Hollywood. Producers make such demands as do directors and others. I doubt the author would condemn this as "censorship".

    In closing, if one can wade past the author's concern, the book is still worth reading.

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