Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies
A former muckraker for The Hollywood Reporter, David Robb does some important investigative reporting in his first book, Operation Hollywood, which explores the Pentagon’s influence on the movie industry. Unfortunately, he’s not beyond hitting the reader over the head with the same points ad nauseam, making a credible exposé sound whiney.
The illuminating discoveries are these: The Pentagon has a film liaison office that offers filmmakers serious military hardware (like aircraft carriers), basically for free, if the Department of Defense approves their film. According to the Defense Department, for a film to be approved, it must include an “accurate” portrayal of the military and “provide services . . . enhancing . . . recruitment and retention programs.” As one might imagine, an accurate portrayal of the military would, in many cases, be detrimental to recruitment. Thus, “accurate” is interpreted rather creatively by the folks in the film liaison office, who don’t hesitate to offer their own script suggestions and can get miffed if their rewrites are not incorporated. Finally, the Department of Defense does not always use its power fairly, restricting access to generally public spaces, like the Presidio in San Francisco or the Cape Henry Lighthouse at Fort Story, Va., in order to gain a measure of control over films shot there. Moreover, the shameless bastards had a hand in Lassie and The Mickey Mouse Club, a betrayal on par with giving free cigarettes to kids to get them hooked. Well, probably not that bad.
These are important points, ones that will keep me in my seat watching the credits for mention of the Defense Department, next war movie I see. Robb’s contention that there should be congressional hearings on the Pentagon’s undue influence over films is a valid one. I, for starters, would like to see some accounting. Just how many millions of dollars worth of flying fighter jets are we taxpayers giving away to Jerry Bruckheimer (producer of Pearl Harbor), and what about spending that money to enhance military salaries if it’s all in the name of recruiting?
Despite these plaudits, even if you’re a military film buff dying to know how John Woo’s Windtalkers was changed in production to suit the Department of Defense, the book may begin to pale. The chapters relentlessly pile up, the body consisting of 48 little islands of outrage (although entertainingly illustrated by Defense Department correspondence), with little attempt at transition or cohesiveness, detailing how particular films, from the ’50s onward, were whorishly changed for military approval (or fought for, as in the case of Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge). Robb’s style is almost as heavy-handed as the Department of Defense’s.