[I wrote this review a while ago but it is being reposted now to be taken in relation to the next post, which is coming in an hour or two…]

If you think of propaganda Lassie is not the first thing that springs to mind. Nevertheless, over the years, Lassie and hundreds of other TV shows and movies have been made with assistance and/or script ‘advice’ from the US government.

These two documentaries chart the history of collaboration and look into some of the current projects that involve Hollywood people and the pentagon. Both documentaries follow the same basic narrative… In the late 1920’s the US War Department (they used to be so much more honest when naming things) created an office to act as a bridge between the film industry and the army. Relations were, for the most part good before and after WW2 but a spate of films critical of the Vietnam War strained the relationship. After ‘Top Gun’ relations began to improve.

Operation Hollywood was from the CBC’s passionate eye programme. It centres on the book of the same name by Dave Robb, who was an investigative reporter for a Hollywood trade paper. He began to look through some of the documents detailing the various involvements of the US government in the movie industry and was astonished by the depth of the collaboration.

He runs through a list of films. See if you can spot a pattern…

Military Assistance                               No Assistance

Top Gun                                                 Full  Metal Jacket
Patton                                                     Platoon
Pearl Harbour                                       Three Kings

It is not difficult to see. Also, as Robb points out “every film that the military assists always says that war is the answer and every film that the military assists is worse than any film that they don’t assist”.

The military has an outreach strategy – aware that directors and producers may just make movies perceived to be “anti-military” anyway (the phrase “un-marine” is mentioned in one or two of the documents quoted) the pentagon tries to get involved.

Philip Strub, a former navy colonel who is now head of the liaison office says it is a process of damage control. The pentagon offers its assistance to various projects. In this way the filmmakers get access to military hardware at discounted rates and the military can suggest alterations which may or may not be heeded.

The filmmakers sign a contract featuring these clauses….

“The production should help armed forces recruiting and retention programmes”.

“The production company agrees to consult with the DOD project office in all phases of pre-production, production and post-production that involve the military or depict the military”.

This creates an unfortunate climate

“Perhaps the worst thing about the collaboration between Hollywood and the military is not the censorship that goes into the films but the self-censorship. When you know that you are going to need the military’s assistance and you know that they are going to be looking at your script, you write it to make them happy right from the beginning.”

The officials interviewed in the documentaries (Strub is in both of them) are at pains to tell us that much of what they do is for the purposes of factual accuracy. Lt. Rushing, who is also in the documentary ‘Control Room’ and whom I think ended up working for Al-Jazeera, is featured here in an earlier job making pernickety changes to scripts such as changing “Officers mess” to ‘Officers club”.

However, they don’t seem too concerned about accuracy in other areas. The movie “Thirteen Days” (which I haven’t seen) irked the military because of its portrayal of the generals advising Kennedy at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The military believed that the generals were being portrayed as “bellicose”. The documentary points out that you can now listen to the conversations that were had at that time and hear the generals behaving in just that manner. In the documentary Strub denies something that the US government has actually admitted.

They were also unhappy about a scene (which was removed from the script of the movie in question) in which gold is removed from the mouth of a dead Japanese soldier. The military believed this to be unfair and unrealistic even though there is real documentary footage of that thing happening.

It is not hard to understand why these collaborations are so important to the military…

To be a superpower there is a basic belief that you must glorify war in order to get the public to accept the fact that you are going to send their sons and daughters to die”.

Joe Trento – Director of public education centre.

Since 9/11 the climate has changed and the US military is much more active in its efforts to put forward its interpretation of events.

A case in point is the US TV series “Profiles from the front” which was about US soldiers in Afghanistan. This programme was presented as a documentary about the job US soldiers were doing in that country. The success of the series encouraged the military to go with the embedding strategy in Iraq. Bertram van Muster, the producer of the series was later appointed the pentagons official film maker.

Furthermore, one of the documentaries suggests that there is a “trusted list” of Hollywood people which it will come as no surprise, includes Jerry Bruckheimer.

In fact, after 9/11, at the pentagons request meetings were set up between military officials and “30 Hollywood ‘creatives’ chosen at random” who signed confidentiality agreements.

Also, since 9/11 there has been an expansion of the kinds of media being used.

The computer game “America’s Army” looks like something between a movie and a recruitment advertisement. The 50 million dollar ‘Institute for Creative Technologies’ (ICT) uses film professionals and computer experts to develop ways to train soldiers. The head of the ICT is the former head of special effects at paramount studios. The US government retains the rights to what is created at ICT but the designers may be allowed to use some of the work to sell commercially in the form of computer games.

Some of the narrative is patchy in these documentaries – there are some contentious things such as saying America entered a new era of peace after Vietnam and it was only after ‘Top Gun’ came out that America felt ready for military intervention again (Nicaragua anyone?). However, there is also some incisive narrative too such as the reason not many films are made about the first gulf war is that it is difficult to keep a sense of drama going during a display of overwhelming strength and that after this a new generation of asymmetrical warfare films began. Films imagining people exploiting the gaps in the USA’s war machine. These newer films fit neatly with the aims of the war on the abstract noun.

Both of these documentaries are worth a look but if you have to choose one then “Hollywood and the Pentagon” is probably your best bet.




  1. I’m not absolutely certain about this, but I think the BBC film Threads (or maybe it was that loathsome US production The Day After) benefited from advice from military experts on the condition that the evil Soviets were clearly seen to be the cause of World War III – very different from The War Game, still banned at the time, in which NATO’s first-strike enthusiasm is noted and in which the commentary’s convoluted opening sentence implies that nuclear war has broken out as a result of US involvement in the Far East.

  2. Threads is pretty harrowing, although it does manage to suggest that, a few years after a global thermonuclear holocaust, there will be working television sets for communal entertainment and good old-fashioned steam engines. It combines drama and documentary, showing conditions up to 15 years after the holocaust and incorporating the theories about the nuclear winter. The Day After is a soap opera featuring a memorable scene in which two tragically irradiated young lovers are united, smiling sadly, in mutual baldness.

  3. I’m old fashioned
    I still remained at the times of the “planet of the apes”
    vintage/cool/scary film on human extintion where, after self destructing,
    human race “recovers” and starts all over again in evolutionary terms, hence “planet of the apes”,
    I find the most famous scene also the most suggestive, where Charlton Heston sees the statue of liberty sticking out from the sand, it is really creepy!
    it is in line with this documentary I once saw that very soon the bigger cities closest to the shore, clearly among which N.y, will be submerged by the rising sea level and southern countries will be covered by the desert,and probably the world will warm up so much that we will all die out and dinosaurs will populate the earth again or the world will simply turn in to the actual mars, where once there was life, we are on that road I think, where we can almost read minds with technology, as in the film, there were the survivors of human beings who communicated by telepathy, if you think of the things we are able to do,I somewhere heard, maybe on the radio, that people are starting to book land strips to build houses on the moon and their first trips there or that they r studying the way to go back in time, so that the back to future film wouldn’t become that impossible, or live in parallel lives and dimensions, could you imagine that?
    Least but not last, if the melting glaciers won’t do the job of submerging all the continents, it will be done by a quiescent volcano, I think the cracatoa, under the ocean, and it will cause a tsunami that will reach casablanca from the atlantic ocean, sicily and africa are getting closer and closer, a cm per year, the desert will cover all italy and scandinavian countries will become temperate as Italy, swans are dying already in the cork lough due to pollution and maybe who knows when or if I will be 80 people will go around in masks to breath or some meteor from outer space will hit the earth and we all will die or even worse, what I bealive will happen, we will suffer slowly and fade away in agony hopeless to restore the Paradise Lost or Eden, Amen.

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