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
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 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
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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”