Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies

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Have your favorite movies been censored or meddled with by the Pentagon? Since the 80's, and the success of Top Gun, Hollywood has increased its production of big budget war movies, using military bases, submarines and aircraft carriers that the armed forces have generously made available to the studios. In exchange, the Pentagon's experts vet hundreds of screenplays each year. Using lots of movie clips, "Operation Hollywood" explores this cozy relationship between Hollywood filmmakers and the U.S. government, and questions the wisdom of letting the Pentagon use movies to promote the U.S. army's image. 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 GumpAn Officer and a Gentleman and Platoon were all made without military assistance.

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