Mirror Magazine
9th September 2001
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What happens to movies after the star dies?

The tragic early death of promising singer- actress Aaliyah Haughton came in the midst of an accelerating career that included several upcoming movie projects and her just-released self-titled third album. 

A talented singer who showed every sign of becoming an accomplished actress, she seemed poised to conquer every aspect of the entertainment world. Aaliyah was "beyond happy" to have landed a role in the Matrix sequels, she told Access Hollywood before her death; now that role will likely be a career-booster for another young star. 

Aaliyah leaves behind one unreleased completed film, Queen of the Damned, in which she plays the title role of Akasha, a sultry vampire matriarch. 

The Warner Bros. film had already been pushed back to a 2002 release before Aaliyah's death. At this point, it's not clear exactly when her last movie will be released, or how the studio will handle the daunting task of promoting a film whose star is dead. 

Even before her death, the film's fate was uncertain, with rumours that the movie was going straight to video. Warner Bros. however said in July that the rumours were unfounded. 

Record labels have previously had to deal with the sudden deaths of artists like Tupac Shakur (who also had a budding film career) and the Notorious B.I.G., whose music still needed videos and promotion. 

Sometimes, as in the case of slain Tejano singer Selena, sudden death can propel a budding star overnight to another level of bittersweet fame. Coincidentally, the movie Selena was a launching pad for the career of another singing and acting superstar, Jennifer Lopez. 
James Dean's early death

Dying young has made icons of stars like James Dean, whose fame and cult status spread greatly after his death at age 24 in a fiery car crash in 1955. At the time, two of his three major films, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, had not yet been released, and studio executives were unsure how to market a film with a dead star.

What they didn't count on was that Dean already a star thanks to East of Eden would become a cult figure, just as his raw, brooding performance made him an icon for his generation and generations of tortured teens to come. Dean received consecutive posthumous Academy Award nominations for Eden and for Giant, which was released a year later. 
The Crow and the death of Brandon Lee

More recently, the 1993 death of Brandon Lee, whose role in The Crow would likely have been the one to kick-start his career, made watching the completed film an eerie experience. 

The actor was killed when a real bullet was accidentally loaded into a gun instead of blanks. Tragically, the scene he was filming was a flashback sequence in which his character is murdered. 

To complete The Crow, director Alex Proyas used existing footage to digitally add Lee to scenes, a process later used on Gladiator after the death of Oliver Reed and on The Sopranos, following Nancy Marchand's death. 

When The Crow was a hit, Proyas said, "I was pleased for Brandon's sake that it got to a wide audience and people were complimentary of his work," but the director wasn't involved in the sequel, which came out in 1996. 

"I was actually quite offended that they proceeded," Proyas said of The Crow: City of Angels. "Just for once I would have liked to see Hollywood not try and cash in on something. Brandon Lee lost his life on that film and it should have been allowed to stay as a kind of tribute to him." 

In a bizarre coincidence, Lee's father, martial arts legend Bruce Lee, died before his final film, Enter the Dragon, could be released. It was the film that cemented his status as an international superstar, but he didn't live long enough to enjoy his newfound fame. 
Studios may cut films after star dies 

After the horrific 1982 death of Vic Morrow and two child actors during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie, the scene in which they were killed by a helicopter in a stunt gone horribly wrong was understandably cut from the film. 

The untimely deaths of other actors have also led studios to cut scenes that might have taken on a new, unwelcome light. 

After Phil Hartman was shot and killed by his wife in 1998, a scene in Small Soldiers, in which a soldier aimed a gun at the actor's head, was deleted prior to release. 

A line in To Be or Not To Be in which Jack Benny asks, "What can happen in a plane?" was cut after the film's wisecracking beauty Carole Lombard died in a 1942 plane crash while returning from selling war bonds. The release of the poignant comedy was delayed to allow a period of mourning for the popular star, who was hailed as a national heroine. 

Aaliyah was undeniably on the path to superstardom, and her role in The Matrix Reloaded could certainly have shot her career into the stratosphere. Now, sadly, she takes her place along might-have-been stars like Brandon Lee or Selena, who never got to realize their full potential. 


Generals at war

Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of Top Gun and Pearl Harbour, had the support of the American military in both movies.Other film-makers have had to fight the armed forces every step of the way. 

It is an undeniable truth that war is a bloody business. Especially in Hollywood where studio generals do battle with their military counterparts every time they want to make a war movie. From The Longest Day to Born on the Fourth of July, from Top Gun to Pearl Harbour, America's armed forces have always wielded the power to help - or hinder - filmmakers. 

Indeed, to get permission to film at Pearl Harbour and other American bases in Hawaii, producer Jerry Bruckheimer agreed to let the Pentagon see an early version of the script. When officials asked him to soften or even delete dialogue they considered disrespectful or anti-military in tone, Bruckheimer surrendered without putting up much of a fight. 

'A lot of changes were made,' concedes Philip Stub, the Pentagon's top liaison to the movie industry. 

For a start, the military felt that the original script - which included enlisted soldiers insulting officers - portrayed the armed forces in a cynical way appropriate to the post-Vietnam generation, but certainly not typical in December, 1941, when the American naval base at Pearl Harbour was bombed by Japanese forces. 

As a result the character of the grizzled airplane mechanic played by Tom Sizemore was shown jumping to his feet and saluting the young pilot played by Josh Hartnett, instead of expressing contempt for the rookie as he had done in the original script. 

And a clash between Ben Affleck's character and an RAF pilot was replaced by displays of friendship with several RAF pilots. 

After seeing early drafts of the script, military officials were also troubled by the sympathetic portrayal of the Japanese pilots, a portrait that implied they were inexperienced young men who were as much victims of war as the people they killed. 

'It's just not true,' says Jack Green, curator at the Naval Historical Centre in Washington. 'Japan had been at war (in China) for two years, and many of these pilots were combat veterans.They were not boys.'

Consequently a reference to the Japanese pilots as 'young eagles' was removed, as was the impression that they were anything other than highly trained and prepared for battle. 

'We were not there as censors or history police,' insists Green, of the military's input into Pearl Harbour.'We were there as advisors.The bottom line is that this is a movie, not a documentary.' 

History, however, tells a different story. For decades the military regarded Hollywood as little more than its propaganda arm, good for producing what amounted to overlong recruitment advertisements for the armed forces. During World War II, the hierarchy became even more transparent when directors such as John Ford, Frank Capra, and Howard Hawks were co-opted to churn out scores of propaganda pictures about American apple-pie boys defending the world against the Huns. 

Up until the revisionist movies of the Vietnam era, filmmakers could even borrow troops, tanks and equipment without charge, as long as their films were pro-war. When Darryl F. Zanuck was producing The Longest Day, his 1962 film about the start of the D-Day Landings of 1944, he enjoyed the co-operation of the American, British, French and German military authorities. 

He also had first dibs on hundreds of troops that were required to deal with the Soviet threat in Berlin - they waited until filming had ended before making their way to the city. 

Nothing, repeat, nothing, makes battalion bureaucrats more angry than a movie that criticises the institution of the military or war itself. In the 1960s, then, as scripts began to reflect the anti-war sentiment of the public and disillusioned Vietnam veterans, the Pentagon refused to give its help to projects such as Coming Home, Apocalypse Now, and The Deer Hunter. 

Forty years later, nothing much has changed. Director Tony Scott was not surprised to learn that the American navy wanted to pull the plug on his 1995 film, Crimson Tide, about a mutiny against the crazed commander of a nuclear submarine.'They didn't want to advertise a mutiny aboard a sub,' says Scott. 

Similarly, US army officials were horrified when they read a draft for Courage Under Fire, the 1997 movie starring Meg Ryan as a Gulf War helicopter pilot killed in a 'friendly fire' incident that is subsequently covered up.

Nor did they exactly warm to Denzel Washington as the soldier charged with investigating the case while nursing an alcohol problem. The Department of Defence began firing urgent memos at the producers, who realised they had a problem when officials asked that Meg Ryan's officer should be less 'butch', then requested input into the dialogue. 

Having reached an impasse, the producers proceeded without military help, hiring expensive Gulf War military hardware from Britain. 

In 1999, the producers of The General's Daughter did not even bother to make advances to the military. They knew that its story of an officer investigating a murder and rape on a Southern army base would not get the green light from officials who insist that women in uniform are treated as well as their male counterparts. 

In fact the US army took such a dim view of The General's Daughter starring John Travolta and Madeleine Stowe that that it threatened West's technical adviser with a court-martial on the grounds that he had disclosed previous unit missions on his CV. 

No such threats befell Jerry Bruckheimer's first joint exercise with the armed forces, Top Gun, his 1986 blockbuster about naval fighter pilots. The armed forces virtually awarded a medal to the producer for the glamorous portrait of rivals Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, granting him the use of the aircraft carrier Enterprise and other ships, and putting at least eight real F-14 pilots at his disposal. 

The result? A film that not only did well at the box office but boosted numbers of new recruits to the armed forces, keeping the generals in both Hollywood and Washington chomping on their cigars for months afterwards. 

Jerry Bruckheimer clearly knows how to handle the military, subscribing to the peculiar Hollywood logic that war is good as long as it means good business. 

-Lisa Sabbage (Asia Features)

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