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The Monuments Men: Is Art Ever Worth a Human Life?

I couldn't forget I was watching George Clooney.

by
Leslie Loftis

Bio

February 15, 2014 - 10:00 am

Babysitters acquired, my husband and I went on a double date with his brother and our sister-in-law last weekend. We all wanted to see The Monuments Men. With a promising ensemble cast and a great story to tell—the Allied soldiers who rescued masterwork art from the Nazis at the end of World War II—it was our unanimous choice. In hindsight, we should have gone to the The Lego Movie.

I didn’t find The Monuments Men quite as disappointing as The Times of London review, but I agree with the specific complaints: the cast wasn’t challenged by the script and the story was off for tone and accuracy.

For me, the problem became clear when George Clooney’s character wrestled for the second, or perhaps third, time with the question of whether art was worth a life when they lost their first member in defense of Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges.

Clooney is not a talented enough actor to cause me to forget I’m watching George Clooney. Listening to him give a fundamentally conservative speech about preserving the knowledge of the past jarred me out of the story. It is also why I instantly picked out a detail. The dialogue referred to the artists, that if we didn’t preserve their works it would be as if the artist never existed.

But great artworks aren’t about the artist. Masterpieces grant to us knowledge or an example of master craftsmanship that inspires us to greater achievement ourselves. The masterworks are worth defending not because they tell us the master existed but because, as a whole, they represent history and knowledge that we could not replicate.

Given most of the stuff Hollywood churns out, it didn’t surprise me that they couldn’t see the distinction.

Leslie Loftis is a recovering lawyer, a housewife, and a mother of 4. She is also a serial Texpatriate, most recently returned from London, England.

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Top Rated Comments   
The reason that "The Monuments Men" was made is the same reason that "Inglourious Basterds" and "Valkyrie" were made. World War Two is the only war that Hollywood can look back as being won by the "good guys". And the Nazis can be the only enemies you are allowed to hate enough to kill.

For that reason, Hollywood will continue to churn out WWII movies for the foreseeable future.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (19)
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I have read that the movie neglects the fact that the great works of art stored in salt mines were preserved because the Austrian miners and the local authorities decided to disobey orders to plant the explosives necessary for the destruction of the artworks. Since such disobedience carried with it the death penalty, obviously they understood their lives were worth the art.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Is art worth a human life?"

Am I the only one here who doesn't think so? At least not objectively. I don't have a problem with someone volunteering their own life for the sake of property. I get the cultural value of a piece, but it has no inherent spiritual value. Even a piece with a moral value, like the Constitution, only has the value given to it by us. A person or group of people can deem it worth his/her own life, but an actual military order as a strategic objective is only worth it due to it's value as a strategic objective, not of the piece itself.

To me it is similar to why you would spend resources on a dying man in a field hospital. You do it not as a strategic move, those resources are better spend on those who may live. Nor necessarily because it is humane (though this may be part of a personal motivation, though once again those efforts are likely better spent on the survivors, should another patient risk death so you may offer succor). You do it for all the other men in the hospital because it is good to know if their turn comes they won't be abandoned. You defend the Constitution physically because of the symbolic nature of doing so to those that believe in it, not for the paper itself.

However in this case the rescue of art is more of a game of capture the flag, scoring points against the enemy's morale while boosting your own, due to the value that your individual supporters place in it, than in the object itself. I feel the same about animals (though if asked if art is ever worth an animal life I might have to think longer). NOTHING is intrinsically worth a human life. It is worth risking a human life only as a symbol of victory to end the war as quickly as possible and save other human lives in the future.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you want to see a great WW2 movie about the same subject, see "The Train". Burt Lancaster makes Clooney seem the light weight actor he is. The comparison between the two movies will illustrate how far Hollywood has fallen and how talentless and hollow it has become. These Directors, actors, writers and Producers couldn't carry the jockstraps of the old timers.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
The trouble with George Clooney, is that he is so good looking, and YET, he is an amazing comedic actor.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is art ever worth a human life? That's a question usually asked by someone who will never make that transaction. Some of us spent half a night resetting a village chief's family grave monument to maintain good Vietnamese/American relations. We had inadvertently damaged the graveyard during operations and battalion s2/3 was not happy. Had any of us set off a booby trap or a mine in the dark or gotten sniped at we would not have thought resetting that "art" was worth it: frankly we didn't give a rat's ass about the village chief or his monument and I seem to recall the art getting pissed on when we were finished. Maybe it would have been different if it was a French impressionist or if we had all had fine art or archeology degrees?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is a tremendous story however. Read the book Monuments Men, and the sequel Saving Italy. There is a documentary called The Rape of Europa on Netflix.

It is the first time in human history where the victors didn't get the spoils of war. Eisenhower gave orders to make sure that cultural artifacts were preserved. It's an under told story of WW2. Thanks to Robert Edsel for researching it.

You can find more about the Monuments Men at nationalww2museum.org
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not terribly interested in the movie.
But as to the opening question, 'Is Art Ever Worth A Human Life?' then the answer is Yes. To quote (sort of) Andrew Klavan: 'Art is a message we send to the future.
It says, This is who we were. This is what we did. And this is what it was like.' Next to raising our children there is probably no more important thing we can do for the future than to enrich the culture and send it on to generations unborn. 'This is who we were....'
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Zeprin, I quite agree with you. By the same token, it is entirely possible to maim, if not destroy, a culture through the destruction of its art. An example: Mao's "Great Cultural Revolution" in China.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
It has Bill Murray and John Goodman. I like John and Bill, so it's on my "to see" Netflix list. Wouldn't spend the time nor money to go to a theater. Clooney, not ever.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
George Clooney starring as George Clooney. Again? Pass. He is often compared with Cary Grant. But difference is Grant was in on the joke about what a high faulitn' stiff he was, which is why he was so good in Hitchcock's various films. Even in decent movies like "Michael Clayton" or "Gravity" his only decent strength is recognizing a good script and a fun role for himself. He brings nothing special to the table.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I haven't seen the movie, but if "is art worth a human life" is a major thematic question, why that's just "is property worth defending?" with a twist. It's just dumb. Only someone with the left's "intellectual" disdain of the idea of property (when it's not his own, of course) could ask such a question.
31 weeks ago
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