Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Movie and a Book

Earlier this year, the movie The Monuments Men came out in theaters.  It tells the story about a group of allied service men and women who were charged with protecting and finding art during and after World War II.  It boasted a well known cast - George Clooney (who also wrote the screenplay and directed), Matt Damon, Kate Blanchett, and Bill Murray to name a few.  The reviews for the film were meager.  Historians found it to be less than accurate (that's Hollywood for you) and critics found it too comical or light for a war-time film.  I saw it over winter break and liked it.  It was entertaining and opened my eyes to this part of history.  The film made me want to learn more about this hodgepodge group of art historians/professors, artists, architects, and museum curators who donned service gear to save some art.

The movie's screenplay was based on the book of the same name by Robert M. Edsel.  I reserved the eBook from the library about 6 months ago and it finally came available over my summer break.  It was SOOOOO interesting.  I didn't find it a fast read because it jumped back and forth across the WWII timeline.  The jumping was purposeful as the handful of Monuments Men (MFAA) worked with different allied units throughout Western Europe.  A lot of the work and "good stories" happened simultaneously and therefore the back and forth was necessary, just not quickly followed.

Most of the critic reviews complained of the screenplay being a bit too silly and showed the Monuments Men as bumbling comic relief.  But I think that was on purpose to a point.  Many of the MFAA were out-of-shape middle aged men.  They were not soldiers, but professionals who joined the army and were thrown into combat.  They were also a very small group (approx. 10 at any given time) tasked with trying to save the art located in all of Wester Europe.  It wasn't easy to say the least, and they got themselves into a lot of predicaments.  This was a very serious time and the military commanders were usually more concerned with surviving the next battle or surge than saving the art.  The stories told by the members of the MFAA were actually quite comical.

In addition to preserving art and architecture during the fighting of WWII, they also literally went on a treasure hunt to recover the art that had been stolen by the Nazis.  Hitler had stolen art and artifacts from the Jews and the museums in those cities that Germany had occupied.  He hoarded that plundered art for his planned Fuhrer Museum in Linz, Austria.  He also intended to destroy the "degenerate" art created by Jews and modern artists.  

Although a lot of people might say that they don't care about the art during a war or that our armies shouldn't be concerned about it while engaged in combat.  But without these men and women an entire culture would have been destroyed.  By the end of the war, the hoarded art was set to be blown up in various underground mines in Germany and Austria.  Some of the world's most famous art (DaVinci's "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper", van Eyck's "Ghent Altarpiece",  Michelangelo's "Madonna of Bruges", Vermeer's "The Astronomer", and Manets and Rembrandts, and the list goes on and on) was saved before that happened.  Can you imagine an art history class without the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper?  I can't.

While reading this book I was also listening to Daniel Silva's "The English Assassin".  Silva writes spy novels, and this one is the second book of the Gabriel Allon series.  Allon is an art restorer/Mossad intelligence agent.  This particular book was about a former Swiss banker who had been in cahoots with the Nazis during WWII and had several stolen works of art in his collection.  Growing old, the banker had many regrets about his involvement and decided to return the works of art, but he was killed before he could do so.  It was fun and relevant to read the two book at the same time.  The history made for a more meaningful read of a personal (albeit fictional) account of the Jewish families whose art had been stolen and then recovered.

If you have the time, I highly recommend the book.  The movie is also entertaining and gives the gist of the operation.  That period of time fascinates me, and this particular "story" has increased that fascination.


  1. I have been eager to see that movie but haven't yet. I didn't know about the book. Both sound really interesting to me. I totally agree with you about the importance of preserving an entire culture.

    1. I don't really understand the poor reviews on the movie. I think you'd enjoy it.

  2. I am adding this book to my reading list immediately. It sounds fascinating. I have been reading a lot of non fiction this summer that dealt specifically with this exact time period.

    I hope your school year goes wonderfully. I prayed for you this morning. : )

    1. Oh, good for you. I tend to read more fiction, but I really enjoyed this one. I wish I had chosen it for my book club because there were a lot of things that would make for interesting discussions. I keep trying to bring it up in my everyday conversations because there was so much to talk about, but no one really cares. :) They'd have to talk about it at book club!!!
      Thank you on the good wishes. We've been in school a week now and I am still very much enjoying my new group. They have added a spring to my step that's been missing on the job front over the last year or so. Sweet children.

  3. Some of the Nazi's were just greedy. Some were truly connoisseurs of fine art like Goering. But some were of a different stamp entirely on their thinking about Art.
    This group, which included Hitler, viewed art as part of the souls of the peoples they conquered. When you plug that into the equation you can see why they would destroy paintings and other Art of those they despised. They simply didn't see the creative force and they certainly didn't want art by those they despised impinging ot helping to form thinking.
    That mindset is rift in Ireland and while not so bad that we'd ever have a debate on Darwinism -v-Creationism it's not all that far away either.

    1. I remember years ago everyone here was up in arms over some of the "art" that had been funded by the NEA. The artists, like Maplethorpe and Serrano, were very controversial and had received government grants for their art. It's always in the eye of the beholder, but to hate it because of who created it is a different beast entirely. Hitler being a disenfranchised art student as well didn't help things either.
      There was mention in the book about Göring's taste in art. The looted art work was being hidden in the mines and during the last days of war the mines were set to be blown as Germany's future was bleak. There apparently was a lot of back and forth between the mine "keepers" and the Nazi leaders about blowing up the art. I no longer have the book in my possession to reference, but I want to say that Göring was one member of the party who had tried to stop it. Probably due to him being a connoisseur as you say.
      I spend last week and will spend this week on the Kandinsky lessons that I shared back in June after visiting DC. It has been funny to listen to my students' critiques and opinion about those abstract pieces. Some love it and some don't like it at all. But overall they're really enjoying the lessons.

    2. I'd be more interested in knowing why the kids who don't like it, don't. And if it matters about the time of day both for light levels and whether they've had food. Or even if they'd prefer the cooler colours instead of the reds and oranges. I can readily see boys having more unease.

    3. It's funny because when I told them I wanted to know how they felt about the paintings most of them told me they liked them as their initial reaction (My teacher must like them if she's showing us, so I probably should like them). There are a couple of kids who are contrary, no matter what, so they said they didn't like them because they never like anything. Everyone else looked at me waiting for my reaction. I told them it was ok if they didn't like the paintings, but when they told me or their discussion partner they had to tell why they liked/didn't like them. It was comical to watch them come to their own conclusion. Where some who said they liked them, ended up not. Some of the reasons were because the paintings were too messy, they didn't "show" anything, typical abstract critics. There were a few who (while looking at ones with the lighter/pastel colors) didn't like the colors, thought they needed to brighter. Some who initially said they didn't like them, changed when they had to think about it and give me a reason. I'd say most of the girls did (and again, that could be linked to them thinking I do...little girls are like that) and the boys were about half and half. It's been a great unit so far though, teaching the characteristics of the artist/art, teaching lines and shapes, and some learning strategies/procedures that I can use all year long.
      Last week we learned about and looked at lines and then did a Kandinsky-like drawing incorporating everything from that week. This week they're doing shapes and we'll create class murals.
      This morning one of my boys brought in a drawing that he had done at home over the weekend in the same style. That was fun to see.

    4. I'm truly delighted to read teh lightness of step in the wording of your comment. Your delight come's across like you were standing before me with a big grin on your face.
      If it reaches them it should make maths, writing and perhaps even grammar easier for them to 'click' into.
      Anyhows, A big hug.

    5. :)
      It's nice doing lessons like that. Much more fun than TEST PREP...even for me!