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Uncle Sam wants Hollywood

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attention screenwriters: It's time to polish that "Casablanca"-meets-"Die Hard" screenplay you've been hiding in the drawer for so many years. Hollywood might be able to use it soon.

CNN's Anne McDermott reports on how Hollywood has helped in previous war efforts (November 9)

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President Bush is sending senior officials to Hollywood for a meeting with studio executives on Sunday. The president wants to see just how the film industry can help in the ongoing war on terrorism, and whether the industry is willing to provide patriotic escape during the war effort.

Is it propaganda? Or patriotism? Perhaps it's both.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, welcomed the meeting, but said he hoped the White House representatives weren't planning "to tell us what kind of movies to make."

It's not the first time moviemakers have been asked to aid the war effort.

Hollywood's contribution to World War II marked the final years of the industry's two-decade Golden Age in the 1940s -- a time of rousing, uplifting films aiming to provide a needed entertainment escape while stoking a patriotic fire in the midst of world war.

The classic example is "Casablanca" (1942), written and produced as America descended into WWII. Humphrey Bogart starred as a cynical, heartbroken expatriate who ultimately chooses to back the allied war effort -- and give up a reunion with his lost love -- in the film's climax.

It wasn't the only war-time film. John Wayne took up the cause in films like "The Fighting Seabees" (1944). Future president Ronald Reagan starred in a string of WWII films with titles such as "The Rear Gunner" (1943), "Jap Zero" (1943), "For God and Country" (1943), and "Target Tokyo" (1945).

Frank Capra directed a "Why We Fight" U.S. government series; and cartoons like "Der Fueher's Face" (1943), featuring Donald Duck, and "Russian Rhapsody" (1944), featuring Bugs Bunny, brought patriotic content to that audience.

If they weren't making movies, some top stars were actually fighting -- Jimmy Stewart's and other stars' enlistments brought front-page newspaper reports.

On the flip side, anti-war films such as "Let There Be Light" (1946), which detailed the plight of shell-shocked veterans, were kept from U.S. audiences.

Since the late 1940s, the dramatic change in the American landscape -- television, war with less than clear objectives, scandal in high places -- helped fuel an equally dramatic change in motion pictures, already shaken by declining attendance and the break-up of the major studio system.

By the 1970s, inspiration was largely replaced by cynicism in movies, as seen in the Francis Ford Coppola classic "Apocalypse Now" (1979), which follows an Army captain's maddening mission into Vietnam to "terminate" a renegade Green Beret.

A string of anti-war/Vietnam movies followed in the 1980s.

By the 1990s, the idea of war was replaced with the action-adventure form that increasingly exploited a seemingly insatiable hunger for violence among moviegoers.

Politicians fretted.

"Are we sitting back like couch potatoes and watching the systemic elimination of all the lines that separate the acceptable and the unacceptable in our culture?" Sen. Joe Lieberman asked in 1999.

But September 11 changed that, dramatically restoring the lines in the eyes of Hollywood executives. At least 45 films were canceled, their release dates changed or altered, after terrorists hijacked four airliners.

Among those is the $80 million Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle "Collateral Damage," in which the one-time "Terminator" avenges his family's murder by terrorists. The movie's release has been delayed while the film is "retooled" after the September 11 attacks.

With Sunday's meeting, Bush administration officials hope to cement what they called "a relationship of respect" between Bush and Hollywood and bring the movies full-swing into the campaign against terrorism.

Senior White House adviser Karl Rove is expected to head the delegation. A top concern for him: how a less-than-glowing movie image of the United States could damage support for the war, particularly internationally.

The MPAA's Valenti, despite his trepidation over government intrusion into film content, is looking forward to Sunday.

"Mr. Rove wanted to come out and have a meeting with the top executives of the studios, the television networks, theater owners, to see what ideas we have that would enable this war to be fought on every front," Valenti told CNN. "The ideas will be lofted at this meeting on Sunday, and then I'll see to it, with my colleagues' help, that we transform these ideas into action."

A low-level meeting a few weeks earlier failed to generate much interest.

Hollywood has already been involved in the so-called war on terrorism on another level. According to Variety, the FBI, in reaction to the events of September 11, approached some of Hollywood's top writers to help them come up with possible terrorist attack scenarios, in order to aid in preparation of homeland security.

-- CNN Correspondents Bill Schneider and Anne McDermott contributed to this report.


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