George Clooney not only directed and starred in The Monuments Men, but he also co-wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov. The story is based on author Robert M Edsel’s non-fiction book, ‘The Monuments Men,’ which relates the true life quest of a band of men and women with expertise in art and cultural treasures, art frescoes and friezes, statues, monuments and buildings, and their attempts to save the historical and valuable artefacts that Hitler and the Nazis arrogantly absconded with. Their task was to track, protect or preserve, and return the stolen works to their original owners, guardians or caretakers.
The commission, granted and approved on June 23, 1943 by President F D Roosevelt, successfully saw the return of precious items to their legal owners and the rescue of priceless and irreplaceable artwork by some of the world’s greatest and renowned artists and artisans.
The Monuments Men Foundation exists today and their mission statement boldly proclaims the words, ‘For the Preservation of Art,’ and this movie not only honours the undertakings but also gives the audience a glimpse of the monumental task they faced just before the end of World War II.
George Clooney, playing the part of unit leader and art historian Frank Stokes, put together a stellar cast ranging from his buddy Matt Damon as the Metropolitan Museum’s curator James Granger; Bill Murray as architect Richard Campbell; John Goodman as sculptor Walter Garfield; Bob Balaban as art promoter Preston Savitz; Jean Dujardin as French art dealer Jean Claude Clermont; Hugh Bonneville as the disgraced British art expert Donald Jeffries, and the only female star, our Cate Blanchette as French museum curator, Claire Simone.
In a Sydney Morning Herald report, leading lady Blanchette states that Clooney did not need to utilise his charm when he flew into Sydney to persuade her to take on the role of Claire Simone. “The problem with George is that he’s so goddamn ugly,” she quips, while airily dismissing the entertainment industry’s accolade of ‘sexiest man alive,’ with a disparaging, “that was a decade ago.”
Blanchette’s role is based on Rose Valland, a French curator at Paris’ Galerie du Jeu de Paume museum. This very museum was used to house the Nazis’ stolen art works and Nazi leader Hermann Göring made 20 trips there to personally select over 700 pieces for his own private collection or to add to Hitler’s soon to be built Fuhrer Museum in Linz.
Germany’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle was also used as a storage facility for the stolen artworks and sculptures.
The outline of the story is the race against time to thwart Hitler’s ‘Nero Decree,’ should the Fuhrer die or the infamous Third Reich fall and the art experts also have to contend with the added fact that the Russians were also after the artworks.
While criticisms range from the movie’s supposed loose script, slow pace or its meandering plot, Clooney more than makes up for it by his attention to detail and the meticulous effort he gave to ensuring the recognisably famous art works looked as authentic as their real counterparts. Remember folks, there was no possibility that he could use or afford to risk the original art works in his movie.
He assigned the task of carving a replica of Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges, which is of Mary holding the infant Jesus, to an artist. Months of painstaking work went into it and the result was ‘amazing.’ Yet Clooney felt dissatisfied when the unforgiving camera light did not reflect the rich marble effect of the original work. The artist’s response to Clooney’s complaint of, ‘it’s really good but it’s not perfect,’ was ‘well, I’m not quite Michelangelo, and I got it!’
High-resolution colour printed onto fabric, was used to create replicas of paintings by Rembrandt, da Vinci, van Eyck, Vermeer and many other artists and was testimony to Clooney’s quest for as much authenticity as possible.
Rolling Stone Magazine paid tribute to his efforts with, ‘What Clooney has crafted in The Monuments Men is a movie about aspiration, about culture at risk, about things worth fighting for. I’d call that timely and well worth a salute.’
The movie garnered additional interest when, as recently as 13 December 2013, over 1,400 unidentified masterworks and paintings by Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse and other famous artists, were discovered in a Munich flat. Cornelius Gurlitt, an elderly man and son of a Nazi art dealer, had stockpiled the valuable works, almost half of which are considered stolen or extorted from private Jewish collectors. Estimated at US $1.35 billion, Clooney is hoping that the art works and others that are exhibited in museums around the world will be returned to their original owners or their descendants.
Some interesting facts to watch for:
George Clooney’s father, Nick Clooney, plays the older Frank Stokes towards the end of the film.
Co-writer Grant Heslov also makes an appearance as the medical unit’s field surgeon.
In the closing credits, the real Monuments Men can be seen in black and white photos with some of the artefacts they saved.
I found The Monuments Men entertaining, educational and enjoyable and in the end, the entertainment value is what the movie-going audience is after.
© Wendy Robinson 2014
A man has honour if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so. ~ Walter Lippmann