At NYT, history repeats itself with a ‘Jarhead’ “controversy”

The New York Times today contains a David Carr piece – the thesis of which is that Universal Picture’s “Jarhead” may or may not have culled material from somewhere other than Anthony Swofford’s bestselling book of the same name.

Apparently a former Marine named – and no, we’re not making this name up – Joel Turnipseed claims that his book, “Baghdad Express” is the source of several scenes in the picture – including the “Luke, come to the Dark Side.” scene in which a fellow Marine in a gas mask utters Vader infamous entreaty from “The Empire Strikes Back.”

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This “Jarhead” flap reminds us of a particular penchant of the New York Times, of late: Namely, to inadvertantly manufacture controversy about a Hollywood film, and in so doing, look “plugged in” to what’s going on in Hollywood.

For example, on July 5th, the Times’s Colin Moynihan profiled an attempt by an entrepreuner named Leo Stoller to enjoin Columbia Pictures from releasing “Stealth.”

Not for the sensible reason that the film was one of the worst produced this year; no, because Leo Stoller claimed to actually own the word “Stealth” itself.

And in March, the Times’ Sharon Waxman reported that

A legal conflict is brewing over one of the summer’s biggest potential blockbuster movies, the Crusades epic ”Kingdom of Heaven,” with a prominent author accusing the film’s director, Ridley Scott, and the studio releasing the film, 20th Century Fox, of stealing his research for their screenplay. In a letter this month, a lawyer for James Reston Jr., author of ”Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade,” accused the studio of violating American and international copyright law by using ”events, characters, scenes, descriptions and character tensions” in the film that were ”strikingly similar” to his narrative history.

(For the record, while at Variety I also reported on the same Reston, Jr. story because I’d heard Waxman was going with hers, regardless of its merits. Journalists: We’re not only hysterics; we’re highly competitive and reactive hysterics.)

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Except, here’s the rub: It turned out that “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Warriors of God” were “strikingly similar,” only in as much as Scott’s movie about the Crusades focused on the same Crusade as Reston, Jr.’s book.

Had Waxman (or for that matter, I) ever followed up with a report on the “brewing,” we’d all known that Reston, Jr. never even filed a suit.

Perhaps something to keep in mind when hearing from a Turnipseed.