Monday, January 9, 2012

George Clooney to Battle Nazi Art Thieves

By Steve Evans

George Clooney says he will co-write, direct and star in an adaptation of Robert Edsel’s 2010 nonfiction book, “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.” No word on casting, beyond Clooney himself.

The “Monuments Men” were a group of men and women from 13 nations who worked collaboratively to protect monuments and art objects from destruction during World War II. “In the last year of the war they tracked, located, and ultimately returned more than 5 million artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis,” according to the Monuments Men Foundation website.

Nazi plundering of European art occurred on a massive scale throughout the continent from 1933 until the fall of Berlin in 1945. Modern art that did not fit the Third Reich ideology was destroyed. While the French resistance, especially, fought to protect art treasures and undertook sophisticated measures to hide and relocate great works of art, the Nazis managed to seize and abscond with innumerable treasures. Art historians estimate the Nazis seized up to 20 percent of art in Europe. More than 100,000 objects are still missing.

The Rape of Europa, a fascinating 2007 documentary on this subject, is currently available on Netflix for instant viewing. Edsel co-produced. Read more about the documentary

Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) presented a fictionalized account of Nazi art looting and Allied efforts to stop the plunder in his 1964 action film, The Train, with Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. Art appreciation and history take a backseat to spectacle in this film, but Lancaster is always fun to watch and does his own stunts. This seldom-seen film deserves a look, with a great supporting cast that includes Jeanne Moreau and Michel Simon. View the trailer for The Train

For his project, Clooney promises a big-budget production with substance. Unlike, say, The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009).

As with any expensive Hollywood picture “based on” or “inspired by” true events, it will be entertaining to see how closely Clooney & Co. follow recorded history.

Edsel appears to endorse the project. “I am so proud to share this news,” he posted today on his Facebook page. Hope he still feels that way when the film is eventually released.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2012 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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