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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

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.”