- Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies
According to the dust jacket, "this is the most important book ever written about Hollywood"—a bold claim considering the extensive literature on American filmmaking. The political and antimilitary agenda is clear: we have been indoctrinated much like the people of North Korea (p. 365). And only a boycott, a class-action lawsuit, and a congressional hearing will end the Pentagon's bribery and coercion of filmmakers.
The foreword by Jonathan Turley, a law professor and legal analyst for NBC and CBS television, asserts that the author, David L. Robb, a Hollywood journalist, provides "an unprecedented insight into the dark world of the military's shaping of public opinion and popular culture" (p. 13) and the "subterranean world of military censors" (p. 21). Turley also assures readers that Robb's "chilling" exposé (p. 13) reflects "comprehensive documentation" (p. 22). The author discusses a variety of films, screenplays, and television shows, including The Last Detail, Thirteen Days. G.I. Jane, Pearl Harbor, Forrest Gump, Air Force One, Top Gun, The Tuskegee Airmen, Heartbreak Ridge, Fail Safe, Courage under Fire, The Presidio, Windtalkers, Mars Attacks, Space Cowboys, and The Mickey Mouse Club. He lists seventy-five interviews with screenwriters, producers, directors, authors, Pentagon employees and members of the armed services among his sources [End Page 1323] but includes no bibliography, no filmography, and no citations. The book's only footnote simply dismisses the seven hundred page, professionally researched and comprehensive study of the same subject, the symbiotic relationship between the military services and Hollywood filmmakers, by Lawrence L. Suid—Guts & Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film (revised and enlarged edition, 2002). Whatever Robb neglects in academic research standards, however, he makes up for in redundancy—the author tells us fifteen times that Phil Strub is the head of the Pentagon's film office.
The military services cannot, of course, prevent Hollywood's celluloid wars or legally censor a script. They can refuse to supply men, equipment, or technical advice from serving officers. They can make it much more expensive to make war films. They can make it difficult to access military film and document archives. Nevertheless, Robb has no sympathy for the legitimate interest of the armed services in their public image and demands Hollywood's unfettered access, at set rates, to military resources.
With its personal attacks (pp. 262-63) and hyperbolic tone, this book is closer to tabloid journalism than to scholarship. Robb does recount some stories not included in Suid's in-depth survey and some readers may even agree that the refusal of the military to assist with the making of Mars Attacks reveals a nefarious plot to undermine American freedom. In any case, you will learn more by reading Guts & Glory, which, though it may not be the most important book ever written about Hollywood, is a fair and balanced history of the Pentagon's role in filmmaking.
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