TED CRUZ’S EXCELLENT HOLLYWOOD IDEA

My Republican friends do not like Ted Cruz. They say he is a devious and unpleasant character unpopular within his own party. My Democrat friends do not like Ted Cruz: he is a Republican. Yet the Texas Senator has come up with a proposal which seems eminently sensible. In April he introduced legislation which he called the Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity and Protecting Talkies Act – SCRIPTA – which would free Hollywood studios from having to submit to multiple forms of state censorship.

Ted CruzTed Cruz, R-Texas, King of the Talkies (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Rejoice, Hollywood! For surely this is good news. In theory, of course, the studios don’t have to submit to any kind of censorship – not since Roger Corman and AIP broke the back of the Production Code some six decades ago. But in practice, the reader will be shocked to learn, over the last few years Hollywood has been subject to censorship from not just one, but two, powerful sources.

The first is the Pentagon. For, in order to gain access to a smorgasbord of military goodies – tanks, planes, uniforms, permission to shoot at Camp Pendleton – the studios must submit their scripts, and make changes. Let us assume that the scripts are the usual war-mongering, platidudinous balderdash that Hollywood invariably offers up. No matter! The military brass can always identify some problems: too much swearing, perhaps. Or not enough diversity to satisfy current recruitment aspirations. Or no hand sanitizers in the CIA torture chamber. So there will be changes made.

Fair enough. Hollywood isn’t going to make an anti-war movie any time soon so it probably doesn’t matter if TOP BUN 2 puts on a few extra pounds of patriotism. And the rewards are great! Free stuff for the studios! Well, not free, really, as we the taxpayers pay for it. But hey, that’s not what Ted Cruz is complaining about.

Cruz’s SCRIPTA bill points out that, after receiving US taxpayer largesse from the Army or the CIA, the studios shoot part of the picture in China, with Chinese producing partners, and/or distribute the finished film there. And in order to do this, they – you’ve guessed it! – have to submit the script to Chinese state censors. Not just the script – the finished film itself has to be screened for the Chinese censors, and, if required, further changes must be made. An example given in Variety is from TOP BUN 2, co-financed by China’s Tencent Pictures, where the wardrobe department had sewn the flags of Taiwan and Japan on the back of Tom Cruise’s flight jacket. A complaint from China, and they were digitally removed.

The same thing happened on the remake of RED DAWN, where the Chinese invaders had to be digitally converted into North Koreans. Ted Cruz is tired of this stuff, and the way it impacts our “talkies”. His legislation proposes that any film which submits to Pentagon censorship cannot submit to Chinese censorship as well.

Let the bells of freedom ring! Strangely, Variety is less than enthusiastic, reporting that “the Script Act asks American companies to give Congress a list of all titles submitted to Chinese authorities for approval in the past decade for review — “Good luck with that,” laughs one top film executive with deep ties to China — but more troubling is its prohibiting studios engaged in co-productions with Chinese companies from accessing government assets.

“Chinese regulations require that there is only one version of a finished Chinese film, meaning that the version of a co-produced movie released in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere should be the same as the one censored for Chinese audiences.”

It’s worth reading that last sentence a second time, since it appears that the Hollywood studios, in order to gain access to a very large market and make more money — have agreed to submit all co-produced films to worldwide Chinese censorship. So if you make a “talkie” for Disney, and Disney make a coproduction deal with Tencent, Disney must submit your script to the Chinese government for prior approval, and the version that Beijing approves is the one that you must shoot, and the only one which can be screened anywhere.

Possibly, it could be said that Cruz isn’t sincere. That his attempt to save our talkies will go nowhere, and is just part of a bi-partisan campaign of China-bashing. This may be so. Yet it seems to me that Cruz’s proposal is useful, throwing light on a very serious problem: a covert, internationalized film censorship regime. The official journal of our industry doesn’t seem to have a problem with multiple censorship regimes and their impact on the quality of the art, yet only offers up anonymous responses:

“What are they going to do, demand copies of each draft of each movie script? Gimme a break!” laughs one veteran exec.”

But why not? The studios provide the Pentagon with copies of each draft of every script. They provide the Chinese censor with a similar package, and a screening of the finished film. They can deliver the same materials to Cruz’s office. And if this whole deal is just a storm in a teacup, political grandstanding, why can’t Variety find an American producer who’s willing to go on the record, to talk about it?

[Next week I’m going to write about plans for reopening film production during the pandemic. But first I must do more research…]

Oh… if you would like to support independent cinema and watch a couple of my old flicks, the Texas Theatre in Dallas is streaming a double bill of EL PATRULLERO and STRAIGHT TO HELL. Kino Lorber, the distributor, is splitting the gate with them, so as with the IFS and Loft online screenings, your support keeps independent theaters (and distributors) alive! Thank you.

 

DODGING THE BULLET XI: PENTAGON PLANS, & THE TREATY TO OUTLAW NUKES

An article on the Counterpunch site mentions a new Joint Chiefs of Staff report – JP 3-72 – which was briefly posted for public consumption on the Pentagon website. It concerns nuclear weapons, and the US military’s plans for using them.

The report was made available last week – then abruptly disappeared.

Fortunately the Federation of American Scientists had downloaded a copy and have made the Pentagon report available here.

Why not download a copy and have an enjoyable read?

Most of it is waffle and military/bureaucratic doublespeak, as you might expect. But explicit is the notion, expressed for the the first time in some decades, that nuclear weapons may be valuable assets in a “conventional” war. Much is made of the decision to go “NUDET” (the Pentagon’s charming acronym for “nuclear detonation”) being the President’s and his alone. Daniel Ellsberg demolishes that myth in his salutory book The Doomsday Machine.

All this is to make money, of course – there is a good report on which corporations, specifically, profit from nuclear weapons manufacture and suppport, here. The full title is Producing Mass Destruction: Private Companies and the Nuclear Weapon Industry. For Boeing, Lockheed, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Airbus, et al. the Obama/Trump nuclear weapons refurb (costing how much? 1.7 trillion?) and bipartisan support for more of the same, are wonderful things.

Perhaps not so for the rest of us. Natalye S. Baldwin writes a very sensible piece about American complacency in regards to nuclear weapons and the likelihood of nuclear war here. (Of course it is not only people in the U.S. who are complacent about this.) She writes:

“… Both the U.S. and Russia still have over 1,700 nuclear weapons combined on hair trigger alert. With so much antipathy, rancor and distrust having been recklessly stoked by the political class and much of the media toward Russia over relatively minor (and/or false) issues in the big picture – yes, they are minor in the big picture of a nuclear holocaust – don’t give a lot of reason for optimism…”

This invented hostility hostility towards Russia benefits who, exactly? The said nuclear contractors. The “intelligence” agencies, which were in serious disgrace, thanks to Snowden, Wikileaks, and others, prior to the Russiagate invention. The media and political assets of the above. Nobody else that I can think of gains anything from the nuclear weapons complex. We sacrifice our money, our land, and our futures to it, as if to a demon god. Even its “beneficiaries” cannot escape its consequences.

So I can be a little proud, as an Oregonian, that last week Oregon’s House of Representatives voted to approve Senate Joint Memorial 5 (SJM 5), which urges congress to lead a global effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war. Oregon is the the second state in the nation, after California, to pass such legislation in both chambers. The bill passed the Oregon Senate on May 20th. New Jersey’s Assembly has also passed a similar bill.

Meanwhile, eighty one countries have signed up for the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Treaty becomes international law – and nuclear weapons states international criminals – when fifty nations sign and ratify it. By March 2020, there were eighty one sign-ups, and thirty six ratifications.

The US and the other nuclear powers will do their best to prevent any of their satraps from ratifying the Treaty. But we are way past half way there! Among the countries which have signed and ratified are Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Austria, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, El Salvador, Bolivia, Palestine, Gambia, Uruguay, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most recent state to ratify is Namibia, which did so during the coronavirus emergency.

[Revised January 2020 to reflect eleven more signed-up countries, and nine more states ratifying the Treaty.]

[Revised again March 2020 to reflect Namibia and Paraguay ratifying the Treaty.]

 

 

PENTAGON SUBSIDIZES HOLLYWOOD

The Global Research site has an interesting piece today about a University of Bath researcher’s Freedom of Information requests — which have netted 1,400 pages of Pentagon documents about Hollywood movies the US Army gave free support to in 2004-5 and 2005-6. This isn’t just motion pictures – it’s Toby Keith concerts and other entertainments which our taxpayer dollars go to.

The documents are thoroughly redacted (don’t want to know the names of any Paramount executives, do we?) but also seem quite fascinating. You can download all the docs as .pdfs, plus what the Pentagon claims is a “complete list” of all the Hollywood movies funded/supported/re-written by the military. Since the list doesn’t include ZERO DARK FORTY it’s either incomplete, or the support for that film came directly from the White House. Or both.

The academic doing this research is Dr. Matthew Alford, “whose research focuses on the relationship between entertainment, political power, and propaganda in the United States.” Excellent area of research!

2020 Update — The Hollywood War Machine, by Carl Boggs and Tom Pollard, now has a second edition. It is an excellent book which deals with Hollywood’s relentless bowing before the military money machine. Unfortunately it appears to be from an academic press, which means that no one will ever read it outside a university library, so after you enjoy a good laugh about the pricing (more than fifty bucks for a .pdf! a hundred and eighty five dollars for a hardback!) you can pick up the first edition for a couple of bucks from a used book site like Thriftbooks or Alibris.