George Clooney’s Art of War

2/9/14
 
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from The New York Times,
2/17/14:

Monuments Men recalls fight at the museum.

It’s … one of the war’s more unusual stories. Art and antiquities experts hardly make for the typical subject of a Hollywood war film, but that’s what the movie’s eponymous subjects were. The men of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Allied armies were charged with safeguarding cultural treasures threatened by the fighting and retrieving those stolen and stockpiled as future trophies for Adolf Hitler’s bizarre conceit: the Führermuseum.

In the film, which opens Feb. 7, Balaban and Clooney–who directed and, with Heslov, co-wrote the script–star alongside Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin (the Best Actor Oscar winner from The Artist) and Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham) as fictionalized versions of the professional curators and art historians who donned fatigues to save works such as Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, Vermeer’s The Astronomer and Jan van Eyck’s 15th century Ghent Altarpiece. What’s also notable about The Monuments Men is that the story it’s based on isn’t over yet. As Robert Edsel, who wrote the book that inspired the movie, puts it, “At the war’s ending, the work of the Monuments Men was really just beginning.” The movie doesn’t go much beyond V-E day.

In the 1990s, that started to change as the looting side of the story became better known. Archives were newly available after the Cold War. Just months ago, the discovery of another trove of Nazi-looted art made news. Edsel estimates that hundreds of thousands of such works of art have yet to be found and returned to their owners.

“These are the lessons of history that we ignore at our own peril,” says Edsel. “All the stuff that survived today, it didn’t survive by accident.”

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