By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The other evening, I drove past our local movie theater and noticed an intriguing movie poster under the ‘coming soon’ sign.  With just a glance as I passed by, I saw “Monument’s Men”, and the names George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bill Murray.  I did a quick double take, and made a mental note to look up the movie when I got home, hoping to find a preview.

I was afraid ‘Monument’s Men” might be a second-rate superhero flick, instead of a reference to a little known story of WWII.  In 1944-46, a small group of American soldiers traveled the liberated areas of Hitler’s Europe looking for the great works of art that Hitler, Goering, and their underlings had looted from both the museums of Europe, and the personal holdings of ‘racial and political undesirables.’  These soldiers nee art historians, archeologists, historians, and artists were known as the Monument’s Men. Their stories have been told in several books, including Lynn Nicholas’ The Rape of Europa, and more recently, Robert Edsal’s Monument’s Men.   I was relieved that the preview of the upcoming movie dealt not with space aliens wearing capes, but with real heroes, in real life situations.  Have a look:

I must say, I am bit conflicted by this preview.   This movie has some promise, with good actors in Clooney, Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman.  Also, Clooney is a highly praised director.  But, I am always a bit concerned when a serious subject gets the silly humor treatment from Hollywood.  This preview makes it seem that this movie may be littered with such moments.  Also, when Clooney and Damon are sitting in the bar, having their o so charming conversation, it seems like a scene from Ocean’s Eleven.  Regardless, I am sure I will see the film both for entertainment, and possible educational purposes.

The story this film will tell is incredibly important, and yet, largely forgotten.  Most educated Americans realize Hitler had dreams of being an artist, but few appreciate the centrality art always had for Hitler’s worldview, and how he and his Nazi pals both wanted to ‘cleanse’ the ‘degenerate modernist art’ of the day, and loot all great works of Western Civilization for the people of Germany.  Hopefully this film deals with that aspect of the story in a serious, entertaining fashion. What surprised me most as I watched the preview is how long Hollywood ignored this story.  It is really a romantic adventure tale that is made for celluloid.  The Monuments Men were solving mysteries that would make Indiana Jones jealous.

This makes me frustrated.  I want to call the movie studios and yell, ‘darn it Hollywood, stop neglecting history! You are ignoring obviously incredible tales in order to produce Star Trek 50, Iron Man 24 and the Hangover 4.”

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How Hollywood has depicted Napoleon

To help alleviate this issue, I shall present for the imaginary film producers reading this post a short list of ideas for future projects:

  • Napoleon – There has been a strange paucity of films dealing with the life, accomplishments and crimes of General/Emperor Bonaparte. Now, I do realize there was an influential 1927 silent film done by Abel Gance dealing the life of Napoleon, but not much has come afterwards.  For a guy who so central to the shape of our modern history, Napoleon has been a neglected figure in Hollywood….Bill and Ted not withstanding.
  • The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand – Some historians have argued that the killing of Franz Ferdinand by Serbian terrorists in July of 1914 is the most important event of the 20th century.  The murder of Franz was the spark that ignited the First World War. The First World War was central to the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Bolshevism. And, WWII.  Then the Atomic bomb. Cold War. And on and on. Make a movie about this day.  The story of how it happened could make for an incredible thriller.

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    Artist’s rendition of the assassination

  • Female soldiers in the Civil War – Many women slipped into the ranks, and fought side by side with men during the American Civil War.  Many lived to tell the tale, and others died on the battlefield, giving their comrades an shock.  Such stories would be made for our age, as women become more common on American battlefields.

Just a couple of ideas. If any big time movers and shakers read this, then let’s do lunch.

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