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February 7, 2014

The Monuments Men: George Clooney's Movie Opened in North American Theaters Today, Think "Oceans 12" meets "The Train"

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog Editor

The morning screening of George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" in Pasadena today attracted a larger audience that other art crime related recent films ("The Trance" and "The Missing Piece". This movie is not a foreign film or a documentary (for that you can see "The Rape of Europa" on Netfix or DVD) but a Hollywood project populated by popular film actors such as John Goodman, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchett. After a sobering opening of the dismantling of the Ghent Altarpiece, the gathering of the Monuments Men team leads me to describe the film quickly as "Oceans 12" meets "The Train" featuring another handsome actor, Burt Lancaster, and both of those movies reached a wide audience.

As for a 'review' of this movie, I prefer overheard comments. During the closing credits, the woman sitting next to me offered her unsolicited opinion: "Leave it to Clooney to find this and bring it to us." Overheard from a stall in the women's restroom: "If nothing else, it gets you interested enough to investigate it."

I'm not going to ruin your entertainment by talking about what happens in the film so let me discuss some of the questions I had leaving the theater: Did any of the real members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section (informally known as the Monuments Men) die while searching to recover the art Hitler had systematically stolen from European museums and private Jewish collections (the answer is yes)? The Monuments Men website, sponsored by Robert Edsel, viewable on this page lists members of the MFAA and is trying to gather biographical information and photographs to commemorate those who served.

What is the true story of saving Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna and Child? How did the Monuments Men really find the salt mine hiding the art masterpieces? Were the Soviets in the Trophy Brigade really on the trail of the Monuments Men racing to recover art that would not be returned to European countries but be used as compensation for the 20 million plus Russian lives lost during the war? And I want to know everything about Rose Valland, the French woman initially jailed as a Nazi conspirator for her work in the Jeu de Paume where Nazis collected and confiscated Jewish art collections.

You'll have some questions of your own to add. As for me, I'm diving back into my iBook copies of The Rape of Europa (Lynn Nicholas) and The Monuments Men (Robert M. Edsel with Brett Witter) until I can take my kids back to the see the movie -- because even my teenagers have said they'll see the George Clooney movie on art theft.


ARCA blog subscriber Paul Lahaie, Massachusetts, wrote in with his observations: The movie does a fairly decent job of following the book. Battle scenes, showing how the Monuments Men [via personal letters to their wives] battling military bureaucracy and achieving more than anyone thought they would. The book and move critics say the same thing -- not enough art. Tough! The audience clapped until the end of the film credits.

Here the University of Iowa profiles Monuments Man George Stout, an UI alum and the future director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.