Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Monuments Men (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Monuments Men”
Save Art From Nazis

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Only a couple of years ago a $1.35 billion treasure trove of artworks looted by the Nazis was discovered in the closet of a squalid apartment in Munich. These stolen paintings included pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall.

Now we have a movie called “Monuments Men” based on a book titled “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert Morse Edsel. It’s about a program called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives that was established in 1943 by the Allied armies, tasked with recovering art stolen by the Nazis and preserving cultural monuments in war-torn Germany.

George Clooney has written, produced, directed, and stars in a movie about this rescue effort. “The Monuments Men” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

A comedy-drama, it focuses on an oddball platoon composed of seven museum directors, curators, sculptors, architects, and art historians who are tapped to be part of the MFAA task force. For Hollywood purposes these heroes look exactly like George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and Hugh Bonneville. They get a little help from a French woman who looks like Cate Blanchett.

The plot: The Nazis raided the museums and galleries of Warsaw, Amsterdam, and Paris. Over 5-million pieces of stolen artwork lay trapped behind enemy lines. And the German army was under orders to destroy everything if the Reich fell. This ragtag platoon is under orders to “protect what’s left, find what’s missing.”

“How can I help you steal our stolen art?” Claire Simone (Blanchett) asks the Monuments Men.

As Frank Stokes (Clooney’s character) puts it, “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements, and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we’re fighting for.”

Claire (Blanchett) puts it a little more succinctly. She describes the stolen art as representing “people’s lives.”

Can these seven guys save “the greatest historical achievements known to man”?

In part they did. However in real life there were actually 400 members of the MFAA.

Think: “Inglourious Basterds” meets “Oceans 11.” This is the fifth movie that Clooney has directed. He certainly proved his mettle with the political thriller “The Ides of March and with the Edward R. Murrow docudrama “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Here he struggles to find the right tone.

Author Robert Edsel’s foundation received the 2007 National Humanities Medal for documenting the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program. A little-known piece of history brought to light.

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