Saturday, October 11, 2014

Monuments Men (2014)

“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 are fighting for.”

            I believe as Americans we do not value culture as much as other countries do. There is Americana in the form of certain objects such as cars, surf boards, and Palisades Amusement Park, but there is no truly great symbol of American culture in art and architecture. Yes, we have the Statue of Liberty but she was actually made by a Frenchman. The Smithsonian Institute proudly displays American achievements. But ask yourself this, what or who can most clearly define our culture in terms of art, technology, and architecture in this museum? If war were to ever, God forbid, come to American like it did in Europe during the World Wars what would be most valuable to us Americans that an invading army could plunder and we would miss that part of our culture?
            Art in its various forms carries a nation’s identity. Art history teaches more social history than we here in America could ever hope to learn in classrooms growing up.  Art carries the pride of nations. It also carries emotional bonds. Have you ever stood in front of a painting by an artist from your country and felt a sense of pride and emotional attachment? It is one of the most thrilling senses to feel. I well up with pride whenever I see works by John Singer Sargent, John F. Peto, Winslow Homer, and Frank Lloyd Wright. To think Americans could create such incredible works of art is amazing because the world is always focused on European art. For me if works by these artists were to be plundered and destroyed a part of me would be missing.
            Imagine living in a European country during World War II and everything your country holds dear art wise is taken by a mad foreigner. Almost your entire cultural identity has been stolen because some lunatic believes your people are inferior and should not be in the hands of who he sees as barbarians. Imagine how that would make you feel having someone not from your own country, your own culture, coming in and taking your people’s precious objects because he deems you as inferior. Think about this scenario and how you feel if America were stripped of its cultural objects.
My heart aches for the lives lost during World War II and it aches for the art that was stolen. It aches for the art that for years was removed from its home and it aches for those works that are still missing. You may be asking yourself why I feel so deeply for art. I am an art historian and I am currently working on my MA in Museum Registration. Art moves me and museums feed my passion for cultural intellect and knowledge. My classes have discussed countless times the plundering of art in Europe during World War II. In an article I had to read for a class the author wrote that Nazi looted art is one of the greatest unresolved issues of the War. Almost eighty years later Hitler is still creating problems.
Fortunately all art was not completely lost. Thanks to a group called The Monuments Men much of the valuable and well known works of art from Europe were found and returned. These dedicated men of the arts were not soldiers they did not sacrifice their lives as other men did. They saw the importance of saving culture. They knew that without culture there would be a great sense of loss to the people when war was but a distant memory.
The movie Monuments Men loosely follows the book of the same title. Of course, I have read the book and it was utterly fascinating. Instead of me giving a long winded summary that will most likely make no sense please visit The Monuments Men website to learn more.
The real Monuments Men. James Rorimer is behind the other men
The characters in the movie are based on the real life men and women in the book but they unfortunately, go by different names. The character of James Granger is based off James Rorimer. Like Rorimer, Granger is curator of Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There was a young man named Harry Ettlinger from Germany who immigrated to Newark, New Jersey and signed up to fight against his mother country. He assisted in translating, naturally. The one character I was upset with the name change was Cate Blanchette’s Claire Simone. Claire is based off France’s hero Rose Valland. Valland single handedly saved France’s most important modern art works. She worked at Jeu de Paume where Gobbles and another Nazi would come and pick art they wanted for their own home, as if the museum was a store. Valland wrote down every detail about every painting that was stolen and where it was going. Valland is a hero to the French and to the world of art history. All the characters are forgettable because they are so one dimensional. There is so much missing to the movie characters. Their one dimensionality and what they are missing leave nothing for you to remember them by.
Rose Valland
I will say that for a movie the story was entertaining and it worked for the screen. There were several aspects that bothered me besides the name changes: the pace was way too fast the whole just jumped around and did not even give you time to really digest what was going on, there was a sort of love story going on with Granger and Claire that bothered me there was absolutely no need for that, Claire could have been a very interesting character instead she was boring and I hate to say typical, there was humor which is fine the drama needs to be broken up sometimes in dramas but it seemed more silly, there really was barely any explanation of what had been taken from France and barely went into the art itself…. Which I think was based on the aspect/issue of copyrights and reproduction which can be crazy expensive and tedious to get permission to do.
The Monuments Men as a movie was not too great. I believe it is a good way to gain interest in the actual organization and the actual men and women who saved art in Europe. I felt there was so much missing with the story along with the characters that it was almost hard to follow. There was a scene with Claire where I was left thinking what the hell is going on. It was a bit ridiculous.
 George Clooney had noble intentions with this film and I feel terrible that he fell short. I feel terrible that he could not create a better story. His character stressed how art is culturally important and what it would mean to the countries who were missing their culture but it was never explained what made these works so important to the countries and to the world of art. That is the most important part of the entire story. I will thank him for making people aware of this organization and of Nazi looted art.

I am not going to say to not see The Monuments Men. Do see it because you do not know if it will pique your interest into researching looted art during World War II and learning about actual Monuments Men, Fine Arts and Archives. I can only hope that you learn how important art history is and appreciate the culture you live because you never know if one day all the objects that give your nation’s identity will be taken away.