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Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies Hardcover – April 30, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 Gump, An Officer and a Gentleman and Platoon were all made without military assistance.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"...a bracing read into the backstory of big studio propaganda." -- Entertainment Today (Los Angeles), May 21-27, 2004

"...a shocking look at governmental interference in the filmmaking business over the past 50 years or so..." -- Tennessee Tribune, July 15, 2004

"...a tour of the integral workings of Hollywood's deal with the Pentagon. Our rating: A" -- Rocky Mountain News, April 23, 2004

"...addresses half a century of propaganda techniques used in Hollywood movies." -- Seattle Times/ Post-Intelligencer, May 30, 2004

"...one of the best I've read in a long time...[Robb's] a great writer and the researcher is far-reaching." -- MovieWeb.com, August 16, 2004

"...tremendous job of documenting how far film producers and television shows bend their vision to the military line..." -- OC Weekly, July 23-29, 2004

"An indignant, unsettling analysis of the military's influence on the film industry." -- Hollywood Reporter, May 13, 2004

"Anyone interested in the truth, in propaganda, movies, or the military should definitely read this book. It's an eye-opener." -- About.com (Agnosticism/Atheism)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Hardcover Edition edition (April 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591021820
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591021827
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #724,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Yarby on September 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While reading of this book would be a good education in propoganda for everyone, it could have been written in a far more educational manner.

I, like many, I would guess, did not realize that those credits at the end of the movie, thanking the armed forces, are more than a simple thank you. They indicate the Pentagon has approved the movie for propoganda purposes.

Most people realize that propoganda was a prevailing force in the movies of the World War II era. But the same propoganda continues today, in a much more subtle form.

A more interesting book would have covered the history of government propoganda in Hollywood releases, not just centered on mostly movies of the last 20 years. There was not a mention of the Disney movies seen on the DVD release "On the Front Lines", or of other movies of the era (such as Abbott and Costello's "Buck Privates"). This was propoganda at its peak.

Also, it would have been interesting to understand the logic behind how the Pentagon would think movies such as "The Swarm" and "Airport 77" would make individuals want to join the armed forces.

I also continue to wonder, as it wasn't mentioned in the book, why the Pentagon supported movies such as "Run Silent Run Deep" or "The Caine Mutiny", both of which deal with mutiny in great detail.

While I admire the author for tackling such a subject, and in bringing it to the public's attention, I just wish he had tackled it with a bit more fervor.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Charles J. Rector on June 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Operation Hollywood is an interesting book about the common practice in which studios alter scripts to meet military PR requirements in return for free access to both bases and equipment.
The book shows how pro-military movies leads to spikes in recruitment and as a result, the military wants to control everything that goes into a movie. All too often, Hollywood acquiesces to their demands. The military believes that they are only enforcing accuracy, but they also maintain that any film that does not reflect well on the military is "inaccurate."
This baleful influence has altered the view that Americans now have of the military. They believe that the U.S. military is intrincsically good and is incapable of doing anything wrong.
Operation Hollywood is an interesting and revealing book. As such it is recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By L. Korshak on June 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The subject is long overdue. The temptation is to react according to our well packaged beliefs so I thought instead of reviewing the book, I'd 'review' the author.
If David Lee Robb wrote it, you can take it to the bank. Within the investigative journalistic crowd, he has always been the most exhaustive and thorough researcher in the industry. Unlike 99.9% of the others, Robb has never had to retract a word.
Well done!
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Newton Ooi on July 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One of the principles the USA was founded upon was the freedom of speech; no government entity can restrict the freedom of expression of a private individual. This however does not preclude government agencies from sponsoring their own speech, or supporting those whose speech reflects favorably on the actions of said agency. This latter intrusion of government into the mass media can be as harmful to society if not more so than outright censorship, primarily because it is less overt and more excusable.

This book deals with one form of such government - sponsored speech; the US military providing support to movie producers to make movies as long as the movies reflect favorably on the US military. The book gives a thorough and carefully-cited history of how Hollywood works with various branches of the US military to help get movies made. In turn, the military branch(es) in question have a say over the movie script, including the right to censor or rewrite entire scenes. The US military helps by providing access to military hardware, installations, and sometimes personnel to movie makers working on military movies. The result is often movies biased towards the US military, with a subtle goal of increasing recruitment. Products of this arrangement include Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, and Stripes. The unfortunate result is that parts of military life or military history that should be known are rewritten, whitewashed, or sometimes ignored altogether. This includes abuse of war prisoners by US servicemen, rapes of innocent women in and around battlefields by US servicemen, and substance abuse within the military.

This arrangement is supported at multiple levels in both Hollywood and the US government.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
David L. Robb has a bone to pick with the Pentagon. He thinks the Pentagon policy of witholding military cooperation to movie producers who don't portray the military in a positive way is wrong. Operation Hollywood is filled with entertaining examples of how producers have butted heads with the various branches of the military.

While Ivan Reitman practically rewrote his movie comedy Stripes to accomodate the Army, Clint Eastwood refused to give in to the Army's demands for change. Eastwood even wrote to his friend President Reagan for help, but no dice. The Marines did not demand the fundamental changes the Army had, so Eastwood was able to make Heartbreak Ridge with only minor changes, such as making his character a Marine.

Robb's argument is that the military services are for the benefit of the people, not the propagandists at the Pentagon, so they should not be able to exercise so much control over Hollywood. But if the producers don't want to play ball with the Army, they can build their own military sets and buy their own tanks and hire their own soldier extras. It's just a lot more expensive that way, and many producers would like to find a way of making the movie they want (within reason) while taking advantage of the huge cost savings of using military bases and personnel.

What's important for the viewer of movies and television to realize is how much control the producers do allow the military. When you watch Jag on TV or see Saving Private Ryan at the theater, it's a mistake to forget the deal with the devil the producers may have made to save a bundle. It's nothing new - Shakespeare rewrote history to make his plays palatable to those in power.

In the end, what we have is another reminder that what you see on the screen ISN'T REAL. Who would've thought?
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