News / Arts & Entertainment

For 'Monuments Men,' George Clooney Gets Surprise German Gift

Image released by Columbia Pictures shows Matt Damon, left, and George Clooney in "The Monuments Men."
Image released by Columbia Pictures shows Matt Damon, left, and George Clooney in "The Monuments Men."
Reuters
— For the most ambitious of his five films as director, George Clooney assembled a top-shelf cast of fellow actors to play art experts tasked with retrieving artistic treasure stolen by the Germans during World War II.
 
There is one person, though, who is not a Hollywood A-lister, not listed in the credits and who may play a big role in the box-office success of “The Monuments Men”: an elderly German recluse who hoarded more than 1,400 artworks stolen by the Nazis and valued at 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
 
When actor Bill Murray heard the news in November of the vast trove art discovered in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, he was glad the release of “The Monuments Men” had been delayed by a few months to February.
 
“This story has had time to resonate and travel around the world, so more people will be aware of the situation,” said Murray, who plays a Chicago architect recruited late in the war for a middle-aged Allied unit on a mission sanctioned by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
 
The film opens in North America on Friday and will make its international premiere Saturday at the Berlin International Film Festival.
 
This photo provided by The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art of Dallas, shows Monuments Man James Rorimer, with notepad, as he supervises American GI's hand-carrying paintings down the steps of the castle in Neuschwanstein, Germany in May, 1945.This photo provided by The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art of Dallas, shows Monuments Man James Rorimer, with notepad, as he supervises American GI's hand-carrying paintings down the steps of the castle in Neuschwanstein, Germany in May, 1945.
x
This photo provided by The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art of Dallas, shows Monuments Man James Rorimer, with notepad, as he supervises American GI's hand-carrying paintings down the steps of the castle in Neuschwanstein, Germany in May, 1945.
This photo provided by The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art of Dallas, shows Monuments Man James Rorimer, with notepad, as he supervises American GI's hand-carrying paintings down the steps of the castle in Neuschwanstein, Germany in May, 1945.
Co-star Matt Damon calls the real-life, contemporary illustration of the 70-year-old problem of Nazi-looted art “fortuitous for the film,” but hardly surprising.
 
“I wasn't surprised at all given what I learned making the movie about all the artwork that is out there that has not been recovered,” said Damon, who plays a New York museum director.
 
Clooney, who also co-wrote and stars in “The Monuments Men,” says “it's great that it came out.”
 
German authorities found Gurlitt's cache in 2012, and Clooney calls the recent disclosure of the priceless paintings and drawings, which include works by modernist masters Chagall and Matisse, “interesting timing,” without elaborating.
 
A Much Bigger Film
 
For Clooney, “The Monuments Men” is “by far, by far” his most ambitious project in a career directing smaller films like “The Ides of March” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
 
“I guess it is probably double the budget of any film I have ever worked on, and certainly in scope and size it is a lot bigger,” said Clooney.
 
The film cost $70 million to make, shared by Sony Corp and 21st Century Fox, and is forecast to bring in $24 million in its first weekend in Canada and the United States.
 
He and producing-writing partner Grant Heslov based the movie on the book of the same name by Robert Edsel, and were inspired by the men that formed that group, but changed names and took liberties to develop characters. Clooney, 52, plays Frank Stokes, the group's leader and an art historian, based on George Stout from Harvard's Fogg Museum.
 
Clooney rounded out his Monuments Men with a sculptor played by John Goodman, Bob Balaban as a theater director, Jean Dujardin as a French-Jewish art dealer, and Hugh Bonneville as an alcoholic British art expert looking for a second chance. Cate Blanchett plays a Parisian curator who leads Damon to find art stowed away in mines by the retreating Nazis.
 
One of the toughest parts was striking the right tone in a film that is part World War II buddy story, part art heist, part history lesson.
 
“You don't want it to be a civics lesson,” Clooney said. “You want it to be entertaining, you want people to enjoy themselves, laugh at some of the stuff. But it is also a very serious subject matter.”
 
As to the decision to push back the film from a Christmas release, where it could have competed for this year's Oscars, to February, Clooney chalked it up to delays in the computer generated imaging.
 
“We weren't embarrassed or ashamed by the film,” he said.
 
Raise Pressure to Return Art
 
Early reviews suggest Clooney might have fallen short of expectations. Scott Foundas, critic at Variety, called it “an exceedingly dull and dreary caper pic cum art-appreciation seminar.”
 
Todd McCarthy at the Hollywood Reporter predicted “a more modest box office life than its cast might have indicated,” but noted that the discovery of the Gurlitt trove could benefit the film publicity-wise.
 
As it happens, the real Monuments Men actually interacted with Gurlitt's father, art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who worked for the Nazis selling art branded “degenerate” that was taken from museums or stolen or extorted from Jews fleeing the Holocaust. After the war, he convinced the Monuments Men to return works to him that had been confiscated by Allied troops.
 
Cast member George Clooney arrives for the premiere of his movie "The Monuments Men" in New York, Feb. 4, 2014.Cast member George Clooney arrives for the premiere of his movie "The Monuments Men" in New York, Feb. 4, 2014.
x
Cast member George Clooney arrives for the premiere of his movie "The Monuments Men" in New York, Feb. 4, 2014.
Cast member George Clooney arrives for the premiere of his movie "The Monuments Men" in New York, Feb. 4, 2014.
Clooney hopes the film will create more awareness so that people holding artworks like Gurlitt will feel some pressure to return them to their owners.
 
“I think it would be nice if they gave paintings back to the people who, fleeing for their life, gave them away. I think it would be a fair thing to do after 70 years,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, Gurlitt has demanded his art back and lawyers working on reclaiming property for heirs to Jewish collectors say he may get to keep at least some of it.
 
As riveting as the Gurlitt story may be, Clooney said he had not even thought of making a film about the recluse or even playing him.
 
“That would be very funny,” he said, before adding, “I don't think I should play a German.”

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.