by Dan Tonkin
This assignment delivers strong examples from the U.S film industry, which demonstrates the extent to which Pentagon script approval, particularly those seeking military aid for their respective stories, can support or wound productions.
We have become immersed in a world consumed by media and it’s important to note how profitable war can be, particularly in video games and on the screen and how ‘the intensification of the relationship between the Pentagon and the entertainment industries brought about the crystallization of platforms that invite one to project oneself into the action. (Stahl, 2010, p.3). Gazing upon a screen, ‘few moviegoers realise how much control the Pentagon has over the American film industry. Citing letters, internal memos and interviews with producers, writers and directors…’ (Klindo & Phillips, 2005). In fact the cooperation dates back to some of the worlds first directors such as D.W Griffiths (Birth Of A Nation, 1915) and King Vidor (War & Peace, 1956) and when America entered into the Second World War, this relationship grew exponentially. In fact ‘Hollywood studios, working in association with the Pentagon, rapidly churned out scores of war dramas and documentaries to boost the American war effort.’ (Klindo & Phillips, 2005) Consecutively, the figures of recruitment soared.
It wasn’t long after the end of the Second World War ‘the Pentagon formally established its “film approval” process and then, in 1948, set up a special movie liaison office, as part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.’ (Klindo & Phillips, 2005) which would continue to govern their control over the movies it chose to assist in the future. Its supposed mission: ‘studying the scripts of American war movies, deciding whether to offer them support or not, depending on their interest for the country’s military leaders.’ (Pia-Mascaro, 2003) Hollywood soon began the vetting of all scripts in need of military resources and filmmakers forced to outfit and bend their stories to the whims of the Pentagon’s preferences. Put simply, agreeing to Pentagon script approval; allowing for their intervention with movies, being re-shaped ‘were given substantial financial and technical help; those unwilling to accept its dictates were denied any assistance.’ (Klindo & Phillips, 2005)
Examples of changes that determine its Pentagon script approval can be found in films such as Top Gun (1986) whereby the actress playing the heroine’s love interest ‘was changed from an enlisted woman to someone outside the service’ (Campbell, 2001) on the grounds that such relationships are forbidden in the Navy. Another change exists in Goldeneye (1995) where originally the plot involved a US Navy ‘was changed to make the traitor a member of the French navy.’ (Campbell, 2001) Such changes to these productions won the approval they required and were subsequently made as a result.
Many films exist that have been supported following Pentagon script approval, such as Top Gun (1986), Air Force One (1997), The Jackal (1997), Armageddon (1998) & Pearl Harbour (2001). On the other hand, there are many films that refused Pentagon script approval, such as Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986) Forrest Gump (1994) and The Thin Red Line (1998). McElwee says “Americans should fear the military suppression of speech. Excellent movies like The Thin Red Line (1998) that accurately portray the horror of war face a disadvantage to movies like Top Gun that glorify it.” (McElwee, 2013). Arguably the reasons, for a script being refused approval from the Pentagon, such as The Thin Red Line (1998) one army major; Ray Smith stated:
“The army does not lend officers to the CIA to execute or murder other army officers. And even if it did we wouldn’t help you make it.” (Klindo, M Phillips, R, 2005)
This highlights two things within the Pentagon script approval here; firstly, a requisite for accuracy in military law such as navy seals refusing to let female candidates to join in G.I Jane (1997) and the second for a distaste in stories with themes of treason and mutiny, such as within Crimson Tide (1995).
One theory comes from Lilie Chouliaraki and her focus on the heirarcy of pity, constructed by ‘imposing one of three scripts on events: adventure, emergency and ecstatic coverage.’ (Hoskins & O’Loughlin, 2010, p.54) Particularly concerning itself with non-fictional war events, it offers some scope as to how the Pentagon assesses its choice for script approval, in so far as does the story set out to deliver this story as an adventure for a protagonist to convey valor or does it aim to highlight the victims and collateral damage to evoke sympathy. I would say that given some of the examples that exist in my research, the likelihood of the latter seems less dominant to Pentagon script approval, such films like Platoon (1986) focused on the horrors of war than bravery and Born On The Fourth Of July (1989), highlighting a victim of the war in Vietnam and actively protesting against the government that put him there.
I began to take notice of the evidence in theories of military hierarchy intervening in film and moved on to consider David Robb and his concept of Operation Hollywood (Robb, 2004). This former journalist for Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter decided to investigate the relationship between Hollywood studios and the Pentagon, which he went through several documents, which depict on this relationship in numerous ways. The initial request for Pentagon approval stems from a movie’s producer requesting to support them with the required number of tanks, ships etc and five copies of the script and provided they respond with an interest he states “you have to make the changes that they ask for, or negotiate some kind of compromise, or you don’t get the stuff.” (Fleischer, 2004)
Following a production’s approval, a technical advisor is assigned to it ensuring the cooperation and loyalty of the filmmakers to the Pentagon’s directives to shoot the film in the way in which it was agreed. Not totally without mercy, understanding the necessity for rewrites a filmmaker can re-enter negotiations to address production concerns but an approval on further changes is still required from the Pentagon to authorise such action. Failing this results in the forfeit of military assets thus making the film “physically impossible — or prohibitively expensive — to produce.” (Sirota, 2012)