Most of Strub’s work is with feature films. His push for a change in the way military dead were handled came in the filming of “Transformers” – or maybe the sequel, he isn’t quite sure. This summer, audiences can spot similar bits of military-approved detail in films about war with space aliens (“Battleship”) and by superheroes against other worldly gods (“The Avengers”).
Before the 1960s, film historian Lawrence Suid said, virtually every American film about the U.S. military had official support, which ran from advice on a script to the use of military hardware and installations.
“What do the movies get from the Pentagon? Uniforms,” Suid said, half-joking. As for how the Pentagon benefits from movies, he wrote in the book “Guts and Glory,” “recruiting, as well as their efforts to inform the public and Congress of their activities.”
The effectiveness of movies as a recruiting tool has never been quantified, but Suid notes that film helped each branch of service rehabilitate its tattered image after Vietnam. And it’s no accident that many of the movies the Department of Defense supports are blockbusters, which attract teenagers, many of them approaching or at the age at which they can volunteer for service.
Strub emphasizes that what he pushes for is an accurate portrayal of the military, not a sugarcoated one.
As evidence, he notes the Pentagon’s willingness to support a movie – as yet unmade – about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, in which U.S. troops killed hundreds of apparently unarmed civilians, and the trial that followed.
The first example of cooperation between the film industry and the military came in 1911, when director William Humphrey convinced Lt. Henry Arnold to fly his biplane in front of a camera for “The Military Air-Scout.” By 1927, the relationship had helped create the movie “Wings,” the winner of the first Academy Award for best picture.
The importance of supporting films has increased with the advent of the all-volunteer military, Strub thinks.
“In World War II, virtually every American had a friend or relative in the service,” he said. “That’s not the case today. A much smaller percentage of the country has a direct tie to the military, so for many Americans what they learn about the services comes through film. It’s important that be an accurate portrayal.”
Some classic films were rejected for official support, such as “The Deerhunter” and “Apocalypse Now,” both of which had an anti-war message, and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the 1946 tale of a small-town banker contemplating suicide that’s become a Christmas season staple on television.
The list of films that received support would be familiar to most moviegoers, running from the obvious to the not-so-obvious: “Top Gun,” “The Killing Fields,” “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “From Here to Eternity,” “Jurassic Park III,” “Invaders From Mars” and “It Came From Beneath the Sea.”
“We could never hope to buy that level of exposure,” Strub said.