By Laurence Washington
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Title: Operation Hollywood
Author: David L. Robb
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Pages: 350 pages
Our Rating: A
Moviegoers who think American films are free from government influence might want to reconsider their position after reading veteran Hollywood journalist David L. Robb's revealing book, Operation Hollywood.
A military film enthusiast, Robb says the Pentagon has been telling filmmakers for decades what to say in their movies - and how to say it.
Through a series of candid letters, interviews and anecdotes from Hollywood icons Clint Eastwood, Jerry Bruckheimer, John Wayne, Francis Ford Coppola and others, Robb takes his readers on a tour of the integral workings of Hollywood's deal with the Pentagon.
Robb notes that the collaboration between the military and moviemakers works because the Pentagon has what Hollywood filmmakers want - access to billions of dollars worth of military equipment. And Hollywood has what the Pentagon wants - millions of potential recruits.
But gaining the Pentagon's cooperation often means compromising the integrity of a picture and a filmmaker's vision. Most Hollywood films about the military, Robb contends, are simply recruiting posters.
Case in point: Jurassic Park III. Casting about for an ending to their picture, the producers of the movie asked the Navy for help.
The Pentagon agreed to loan them two Navy helicopters, four Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles and 80 Marines to storm the beach.
The Navy logo had to be clearly visible on the helicopters and the Navy and Marines had to be credited in the script for saving the day.
"That little line of dialogue was all the Pentagon wanted," Robb writes. "Just that little plug to let the audience know who the real heroes are."
Not all proposed accommodations are so small. Sometimes the Pentagon wants total script control, Robb continues.
Many times, it insists that sex, harsh language and violence be kept to a minimum - a condition actor/director Clint Eastwood ran into while filming Heartbreak Ridge, the story of a two-fisted, hard-drinking, foul- mouthed Marine sergeant in his twilight years. Eastwood, a friend of President Reagan, was given the full cooperation of the Marine Corps at first. But after attending an advance screening, the Department of the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs withdrew the Pentagon's support, claiming Eastwood broke his promise to change several scenes. As a result, Heartbreak Ridge didn't make the Pentagon's day. And DOD banned the film from military bases and refused to let Eastwood thank the Marines for their assistance in the screen credits.
As national chairman of the Marine Corps' Toys For Tots program, Eastwood was livid, firing off an angry letter to Robert Sims, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, calling him a liar and telling him that he'd never work on another film with the Pentagon, as long as Sims was secretary.
If Eastwood felt sandbagged when his movie was ready for release, the negotiations on Forrest Gump never even got that far. The filmmakers of this story, about a simple-minded man who joins the Army and changes history, wanted Chinook helicopters and other Vietnam War-era military equipment, but the Army declined.
"They felt the half-witted character . . . was not the kind of soldier the Army would have recruited during the Vietnam War," Robb writes.
Gump is recruited and trained in a special unit with other soldiers with low IQs, and they are led by an inexperienced officer. The DOD claimed it was inhuman, senseless and a doomed experiment.
"For us to provide assistance, the military depictions must be historically accurate or feasible, of information value to the public and of benefit to recruiting and retention," wrote Phil Strub, head of the Pentagon's film office.
The producers of Forrest Gump refused to compromise their vision of the movie.
But others are less strident. Robb says action movie guru Jerry Bruckheimer has caved into Pentagon demands more than any other producer in Hollywood, listing The Right Stuff, Armageddon, Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor as compromised pro-military projects.
Bruckheimer received full Pentagon endorsement with Top Gun. And the Navy went as far as to place its recruiters in many theaters showing the film.
Maverick director Oliver Stone, who refused military assistance for his controversial classics Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, says the Pentagon makes prostitutes of us all.
"Because they want us to sell out to their point of view," Stone says.
Operation Hollywood should come with a warning label: Caution! Movie lovers could lose their innocence. Robb introduces us to the man behind the curtain we've been told to ignore.
Turns out, he's wearing military khakis and studying scripts. Beware.
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