Stan Hey: So will the Brits still play the baddies?

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The Independent Online

If you didn't get the call from the American government over the weekend then you really are nobody in Hollywood. The hastily assembled "Beverly Hills Summit" brought together state officials and high-profile producers to discuss ways in which the American movie industry can help not just the war against terrorism but also the image of the United States throughout the world. Of course, a Washington spokesman denied that the government might be telling Hollywood what to do, and nobody mentioned that nasty word "propaganda" over the hash browns.

The logic seems entirely reasonable. Hollywood films are America's biggest cultural export, consumed by billions around the world. They portray not just how America sees itself but also how it would like to be seen by others. In this respect the movies have a much greater global reach than President Bush, who hadn't visited much of the world before taking office, and now dare not travel overseas at all, sending Tony Blair to meetings instead.

In the immediate aftermath of 11 September, Washington had called in Hollywood writers to help them unravel how such an outrageous plot might have been planned. The screenwriters were also asked to "pitch" any other terrorist scenarios that they had in the bottom of their desk drawers that might become reality (pity the poor guy who'd already come up with the anthrax-letter plot).

Of course, approaching the screenwriters was a mistake. Everyone knows that in Hollywood the producers and development executives come up with all the ideas. The notion that writers are "creatives" would have raised a big laugh. That's why, this time around, Washington is going to the producers to discuss misdeeds. One can only guess at the agenda.

Project One may be a movie about Dubya's sudden friendship with General Musharraf. Over the weekend Bush announced he was giving $1bn in aid to the Pakistan government, and lifting sanctions that were imposed over some minor nonsense about unauthorised testing of nuclear weapons, a military coup, and the absence of democratic elections. This turnaround needs to be shown as an act of statesmanship from a president with a grasp of world affairs, rather than the grubby pay-off that it might seem in certain less intelligent quarters.

Mel Gibson would be the prime candidate to play Dubya. He's short, punchy, he's a tough talker, he's a man of action, and he's also been a revolutionary hero for the Scots (in Braveheart) and for the 18th-century Americans (in The Patriot). The part of Musharraf will probably go to Omar Sharif. If there's a bin Laden part, Ben Kingsley would be in the frame because British actors usually get cast as the baddies, although this might now change given Bush's apparent affection for Mr Blair.

Of course nobody should get too alarmed by the idea of Hollywood suddenly cosying up to the government, because the relationship has been more than cosy for decades. Many of America's post-war movie directors cut their teeth shooting documentaries for the Army Films Unit. As soon as peace was achieved, they celebrated America's victory with umpteen movies about the Pacific campaign and the D-Day invasion.

Once the Cold War started, the Commies became the filmic enemy for the best part of 40 years. And the "enemy within" were the American writers and directors who failed Senator McCarthy's witch-hunts. The film-world/government relationship reached its apogee when a Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan, became President, prompting Henry Kissinger to comment privately that "Reagan is an empty vessel – excellent!"

Now we are left wondering what particular movie is now playing inside Dubya's head – and what kind of ending it has.

Stanhey@aol.com

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