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The New York Times, Tuesday December 04 09:03 AM EST
Spy Wanted. Must Know Hollywood.
By JULIE SALAMON
"Hollywood Goes to War" captures the remarkable insularity and weary
self-righteousness of filmmakers whose work emphasizes special-effects
violence rather than human relationships.
On the new television series about the Central Intelligence Agency "The
Agency," "24," "Alias" the spies are so clever that it seems that
America's espionage forces should be sent to Hollywood as part of their
As it turns out, they have been. "We used to assign one of our officers
to watch "Mission: Impossible" every week because we'd always get the
phone call the next morning 'Can you guys do that?' " says Tony Mendez,
a retired C.I.A. officer. His tour of duty included several trips to
Hollywood and a visit with the makeup man from "Mission: Impossible."
Mr. Mendez also arranged, during the Iranian hostage crisis, to help
establish a fake movie company on Sunset Boulevard that would be part of
a scheme to help evacuate American diplomats hiding in the Canadian
embassy in Tehran.
Mr. Mendez's story is part of "Into the Shadows: The C.I.A. in
Hollywood," showing tonight on American Movie Classics. The documentary,
which was produced before Sept. 11, began as an earnest
behind-the-scenes report on the relationship between the government and
show business, designed to fill the apparently endless appetite movie
buffs have for this kind of thing. But even this amusing historical
footnote acquired a new sense of gravity after the terrorist attacks. So
Charles Stuart, the program's producer, added a half-hour epilogue
called "Hollywood Goes to War," about how the industry has reacted to
the events. (Mainly with lots of hand wringing, defensiveness and
meetings.) The epilogue benefits from a sense of urgency, as it captures
the self-importance and singular vision of Hollywood operators. "We're
human beings first, we're marketers second," says Geoffrey Ammer,
president of marketing for Columbia TriStar Pictures, congratulating
himself and his company for deciding to pull trailers for the new movie
version of "Spiderman" that showed the superhero swinging between the
World Trade Center towers. As if this was a hard decision, from either a
humanitarian or a marketing point of view.
In its straightforward way "Hollywood Goes to War" captures the
remarkable insularity and weary self-righteousness of filmmakers whose
work emphasizes special-effects violence rather than human
relationships. "I'm tired of the world putting its woes on movies," says
Michael Bay, director of "Pearl Harbor," in response to the notion that
terrorists might be learning tricks from film scenarios.
Jonathan Hensleigh, who wrote "Armageddon," about an asteroid hitting
Earth, confesses that he hadn't really worried much about the scenes of
devastation in his movie, which included computerized images of a
smoldering twin towers. The documentary juxtaposes these movie illusions
against the moment when the smoke billowing out of the World Trade
Center was real. "When we made `Armageddon,' we all of us certainly
didn't think we were going to be seeing any of those images in real
life," Mr. Hensleigh says. Later, he says, when it actually does happen
and you're watching it on CNN, "frankly, it gives you the creeps."
For years various people in government have complained about movie
violence and have routinely been ignored. But the ties between the
insular universes of Hollywood and Washington have remained strong.
Howard Hunt, the onetime C.I.A. officer who became one of the Watergate
burglars, was once a Hollywood screenwriter. John Wayne lobbied to
infiltrate movies with "America's message," as he interpreted it. More
recently the Pentagon in collaboration with entertainment companies
established the Institute for Creative Technologies (a movie name if
there ever was one) near Los Angeles to help train soldiers with virtual
Meaningless violence may be out, but apparently to be replaced by
meaningful violence. A new round of war movies is coming to theaters,
including "Black Hawk Down," a film about American special forces in
Somalia in 1993. "These are movies about heroism," says Mr. Ammer of
"These are movies about patriotism." New movies, old clichés.
INTO THE SHADOWS The C.I.A. in Hollywood AMC, tonight at 10 Written,
produced and directed by Charles C. Stuart; associate producer, Olympia
Stone; executive in charge of production, Nancy McKenna; executive
producers, Marc Juris, Jessica Falcon.
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