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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."