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American Women's Club of Hamburg

The Monuments Men


USA | Germany 2014
Starts February 20, 2014

Directed by: George Clooney
Writing credits: George Clooney and Grand Heslov screenplay, Robert M.Edsel and Bret Witter novel
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett
Length: 118 minutes

the Monuments Men"In August 1943, the Allies nearly destroyed (Leonardo Di Vinci's famous piece) The Last Supper inadvertently. I think that set off the alarm bells and accelerated getting the monuments officers into the field." Robert M. Edsel

The greatest art heist in history is told by author Robert M. Edsel with Brett Witter in their book The Monuments Men.  For the past eleven years Edsel has passionately worked to bring awareness to the incredible tasks to which the Monuments Men are to be remembered. Edsel has detailed the Monuments Men’s bravery and resourcefulness in his book from 2006:  Rescuing Da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe’s Great Art—America and Her Allies Recovered It. In 2013 he convinced Congress to pass a resolution honoring the men. Over sixty years after the end of WW II, there are only a dozen of the Monuments Men known to be alive; the youngest, former sergeant Harry Ettlinger is now in his eighties. Edsel is still working hard to get as much first-hand information as possible about the feat.

Filmmaker George Clooney hears about the group of extraordinary soldiers from his writing and producing partner, Grant Heslov. Searching for material, for their next feature, that did not breathe cynicism but a straight-forward storyline; they found the perfect narrative for the silver screen in Edsel's account of wartime heroism. Clooney notes, "We envisioned this project of how the moving picture told stories the old-fashion way--with positive forward movement." Clooney continues, "It's a true story that seriously has had a huge impact on preserving the world's largest collection of art known to man. Very few people knew about the heist."  A story not to be hidden from the world; Clooney, Heslov and Edsel collaborate to share a noteworthy escapade of historical value in their film debut The Monuments Men.

A true story with no end. "Even today, people are still trying to get back the art that was looted from their families by the Nazis," says Heslov. The art continues to come out of hiding. The most recent find from the stolen collection was uncovered in an apartment in Munich, Germany in 2012. It was estimated there were 1,500 works worth $1.5 billion, paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Dix, and other pieces thought to have been lost. Heslov continues, "There are thousands of works still lost. Many were destroyed but there are, without a doubt, paintings that are still hanging in people's homes or hidden in plain sight on museum walls."

A radio interview with one of the last survivors of the real-life monuments men describes to the listener the preposterous mission. Failure was written all over it. The group was comprised of hand-picked museum curators, architects, scholars, educators and artists. Far from the typical 18-year-old soldiers, the middle-aged volunteers (the monuments men) were an extraordinary band of brothers. Though they lost two exquisite members of their troop along the way, they all knew it was a do-or-die mission and complicated. They would risk their life in order to save world history. Artifacts embracing historical worth captured under the duress of incredible selfless acts of bravery.

According to Matt Damon who plays the role of James Granger (a fictitious name but portraying a similar character like the real monument man, James Rorimer), he says, "One of the two questions the film asks: 1) What role and significance does art play in our society? and 2) Is it worth dying for?

The film gives the audience a chance to visualize the dangers the specialized WW II platoon faced but for a more educational journey on their mission, go to the real-life official website for their foundation: monumentsmenfoundation.org. It's quite explosive! 

Film Synopsis: During the World War II era, rumors circulated within the United States community of museum curators about plans to open an art museum in Germany called the Führermuseum (a museum in honor of Germany's Chancellor, Adolf Hitler). The selected pieces of art would be comprised of several million pieces of stolen property from individuals, art collectors and art houses across Europe. 

Lieutenant Commander, Frank Stokes, (a fictitious name but portraying a similar character like the real monument man, George Leslie Stout) played by actor George Clooney was known for his expertise on art conservation techniques. Stokes strategically convinces the sitting U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the stolen European art is worth saving and seeks permission to plan the mission for immediate attention. Roosevelt, keen on leaving a different type of legacy when he leaves office, agrees to go after the world treasure placing Stokes at the helm.

Stokes hand-picks a small group of international, middle-age professionals and all men are experts in the field of art history. Together they execute one of the most unfamiliar but famous art heists in history. The initial planning session begins with Stokes sharing the task of their secret mission and makes clear to his hand-picked troop they are the only men for the job--to find, retrieve and protect over five million pieces of stolen artwork. The name of the troop and its mission was called The Monuments Men (MM).

The men are up against a race with time to find and collect the millions of famous works before the Nazis destroy the loot or, move it out of the country. They also knew that the allies were looking to confiscate the pieces as well. It wasn't until March 1945 (one month before the declaration ending WW II) that the special troop discovers that the works of art are strategically hidden in more than one thousand hiding places throughout Germany--mostly in abandoned salt mines and castles. 

It was important to be one step ahead of their competition. The quest was difficult. Their information sketchy until they meet a tough but beautiful French woman, Claire Simone (a fictitious name but portraying a similar real life character Rose Valland), played by actress, Cate Blanchett. Simone, a French curator worked for the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris and secretly recorded the movements of art stolen by the Nazis in France. Simone's detailed ledgers are the key the MM need to execute the heist. She holds on to them until confident the MM are the saving grace for the prized possessions. Her information allows the men to find the secret hiding places scattered all over Germany. Once the locations are targeted the Monuments Men begin the most intense treasure hunt of their lives. (.)

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