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The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Operation Hollywood Documentary - Notes

Notes on Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes & Censors the Movies, by Emilio Pacull

1.      Since most civilians have never been to war, most of what we know about it comes from films.

2.      Hollywood constantly makes war films, covering wars of the past, present, and future. In order to make these films realistic, they often seek help from the military, who act as a technical advisor. They can provide props, uniforms, and video footage of real planes and bombs, etc. They correct dialogue based on military jargon, and make sure the haircuts, etc, are all accurate, to provide greater realism. This can save a film millions of dollars to produce.

3.      It's important to note that the US military has trained millions of personnel over the years, many of whom are retired. Any filmmaker can hire retired soldiers to provide technical support and advice, and this happens all the time. Retired soldiers don't need to censor themselves in any way. So, filmmakers can learn details about real wars and make accurate films, even without the official support of the military. But, it costs much more.

4.      In the late 1920's, the US military opened an office to work with Hollywood. The first film to benefit from military cooperation was Wings in 1927. The military even provided logistics for the film's production.

5.      Hollywood worked most closely with the US military during WWII. Actors entertained soldiers at the front. Directors went to film the various campaigns: John Ford in the Pacific, William Wyler & John Sturges followed aerial combat in Europe, and George Stevens filmed the landing of Normandy on D Day. George Stevens also filmed the Nazi concentration camps.

6.      Certain war films were banned in America, like Let There Be Light (1946) a documentary showing wounded veterans returning from WWII. It was banned until 1980 and the reason the military was able to do this was they were the ones who had produced it, and owned the legal rights to it.

7.      The Longest Day (1962) was another collaboration between the military and Hollywood, pushing the narrative of heroic soldiers in a just war, WWII. Such patriotic films were important to politicians and the military, as America began controversial wars in Asia against communists. People saw real shooting and bombing every day on the news, and wondered when it would end.

8.      Hollywood tried to distance itself from the military during the Vietnam War. As a business, it wanted to make films that would sell, and many Americans were against the war. Still, it produced Patton (1970), MASH (1970), Catch 22 (1970), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and The Green Berets (1968).

9.      But, Hollywood held off on many films that seemed risky at the time, including Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which weren't made until the 1980's.

10.  The Green Berets was a project started by actor John Wayne. The military gave tons of assistance and props for free. The film was a commercial success, despite being trashed by leading film critics. Roger Ebert put the film on his Ten Most Hated List.

11.  Apocalypse Now (1979), by Francis Ford Coppola, shows a totally different view of the war. It was inspired by Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and received no support from the US military.

12.  Full Metal Jacket (1987) by Stanley Kubrick is infamous for R. Lee Ermey, who played the role of drill sergeant for the new recruits. He was an actual drill sergeant and Vietnam War veteran, and repeated much of what he did in actual troop training.

13.  Full Metal Jacket was very critical of the war and the military, and it's amazing that Kubrick got Ermey, who supports the military, to play in it. Ermey sees his character in a positive light, refusing to recognize his role in warping a cadet into a suicidal state. Ermey saw the role as a major stepping-stone for his career, and is proud he was able to change the script to make his character more benevolent (at least in his mind). Ermey supported the military (still does), but also wanted people to know the truth of marine training and combat.

14.  Hollywood and the military came back together in the 80's to make Top Gun (1988), selling the story of America's new technological superiority. The military loved it.

15.  During the 1st Gulf War in 1990-91, the military continued this Top Gun approach. It was much more careful to monitor and control news footage. Images of dead bodies were replaced with video footage of "smart bombs." There were few films about this war. It was over so fast, there was little dramatic tension.

16.  The Siege (1998) portrayed a series of fictional terrorist attacks in NYC, addressing this threat years before 9/11. Military characters in the film ordered martial law and hindered law enforcement. The military refused any assistance.

According to Dave Robb, a Hollywood journalist

1.      American cinema is formulaic. It revolves around action and war. There's always a good guy and bad guy, and the good guy always wins. It becomes a recruitment tactic for the military to target children.

2.      The military wants to present itself as superior, even invincible. Any war film they collaborate on will have as its central theme that war is the answer.

3.      Any time a film or TV show wants military assistance, the military requires that they get to review the script and demand changes.

Example: In Lassie, one episode contained a military plane crash. Originally, Lassie heard a strange noise before it crashed, and realized the plane was faulty. The military "strongly recommended" the script be changed, so that there was nothing wrong with the plane, in exchange for film footage of a Cesna plane flying. Otherwise, they wouldn't help.

Example: In Windtalkers (2002) there was a scene were an American dentist pulled gold teeth from dead Japanese soldiers. The military, which cooperated with the film, demanded the scene be removed, so the dentist character was erased. The military claimed such behavior was un-marine-like, even though it actually happened.

Example: The film 13 Days (2000), recounts the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which Kennedy and Krushchev nearly started WWIII. There are tape recordings of all top-level discussions between Kennedy and his military advisors, who wanted to go to war. Kennedy rejected their advice, finding a peaceful resolution. Even though the conversations were accurate, word for word, the military wouldn't help with the film, because it made them look bad.

4.      Not only is censorship an issue, but self-censorship. Any filmmaker who wants help from the military will self-censor from the beginning.

5.      The problem with censorship isn't simply about falsifying history. Filmmakers are artists; they change the facts all the time to make a good story. But, when the military is involved in this process, and it shapes how the public views the military, then you get a pro-war population that accepts more and more wars, oblivious to the cost. And then, when a filmmaker actually wants to tell a true story, with all the facts in place, the military should have no influence in stopping that.

According to Pentagon spokesman, Philip M. Strub:

1)      "First of all, when we look at scripts, are we conducting damage control? And the answer is, absolutely. It's not my role here to vilify the armed forces because I'm a believer of the armed forces. I wouldn't be in this job if I didn't. And my colleagues feel the same way. Those who are in the military, obviously, are adherents. Otherwise, they'd vote with their feet and quit. So, we are all very much of the opinion that the military is an institution for the betterment of the United States. So, any picture that is contrary to that fundamental premise is going to be a problem for us."

2)      "Is the American will in favor of our involvement in these pictures? I have no way of knowing because there have never been any surveys. But, I can tell you one thing. Their elected officials are certainly not opposed to it. Because, it's nothing that we keep quiet or secret. We don't advertise it. We don't choose to try to be prominent to gain attention for ourselves. The public affairs world wants to stay behind the camera, not in front of it. But, there's certainly nothing we're hesitant about. We're not ashamed of their relationship, nor have we ever heard any complaints or any requests to modify it from the elected officials of the American public. So, I can only say that, though we may get an occasional letter saying, why did you work on this picture? Why did you work on that TV show? Most of those we didn't! They just think we did."

3)      There are two categories for films the military won't work on. One is a show-stopping premise, like Apocalypse Now or Crimson Tide, when US soldiers do something that real soldiers would never do, like orders to kill a fellow officer.

4)      "Top Gun was a milestone picture because it signified the rehabilitation of the military as acceptable subject matter in a positive context. It showed . . . you could make film that portrayed the military . . . in a positive way and make money, and not become a pariah in Hollywood. It wasn't the first, but the most important picture that symbolized that change in public opinion."

5)      13 Days was too unrealistic to support, in that it portrayed the military as debating against the Kennedy's.

The Pentagon knew and accepted that Pearl Harbor (2001) wouldn't be historically accurate. But, what makes the film acceptable, in his mind, is that it drew attention to the story, and the survivors, more so than the 50th anniversary.


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