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George Clooney Didn’t ‘Save Puppies from Nazis’ In Monuments Men

Ernest Becker sheds a different light on the movie, its confused critic Philip Kennicott, and the history of the Allies vs. Adolf Hitler.

by
Rhonda Robinson

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February 18, 2014 - 3:30 pm
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In spite of the fact that the new WWII flick The Monuments Men is peppered with Hollywood royalty like George Clooney, Bill Murray and Matt Damon, its idealism and patriotic tone has induced mental vomiting among the cultural elite.

Case in point is Philip Kennicott’s scathing criticism of the film in the Washington Post titledGeorge Clooney saves Puppies from Nazis.“ Ironically, Kennicott misses the point of the movie and then uses the same point to argue his case against it.

In yet another twist of fate, our new series exploring the works of Ernest Becker beginning with The Birth and Death of Meaning sheds a different light on the movie, Kennicott, the Allied Forces and Hitler.

Let’s start with Kennicott, who writes:

“If you care about art, you are obliged to loathe the film “The Monuments Men,” a star-studded history drama that purports to tell the story of American efforts to rescue and repatriate art stolen by the Nazis in World War II…“Monuments Men” is so bad I will save you the trouble and expense of seeing it with the following summary. To make the film a bit more coherent, I’ve substituted the word “puppies” for art.

Over in Europe, the Second World War is raging, and Clooney is very worried about the puppies. He takes this concern directly to Franklin Delano Roosevelt… He explains to the President of the United States the basics of the allied invasion of Germany. He uses a big map with arrows on it, with the Russians coming in from the east, and the allies moving in from France and Italy. Caught in the middle of these armies are a whole lot of puppies. Clooney says he doesn’t want to live in a world without puppies.

Roosevelt tells Clooney to go save the puppies and there ensue several derivative scenes in which Clooney rounds up a rag-tag gang of misfit puppy lovers who all agree to help him return the puppies to their rightful owners.”

His opening with, “If you love art you are obligated to loathe the film” should give you your first whiff of a fermented ideology. The basis of his argument begins by informing us of our obligation to accept his emotions and condescension as the standard of righteousness, and our allegiance to art. Then Kennicott proceeds to obscure the gravity of the facts by replacing it with warm fuzzies–then ridiculing the absurdity.

Like a fresh gulp of air in a stale room of smoke and mirrors, this film is based on American history not yet rewritten–even in Hollywood.

And that alone makes it worth a closer look.

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All Comments   (7)
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Oy. I have an MA in art history (New York University Institute of Fine Arts, 1984). People this braying ass at the WaPo are why I quit the field.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
I may make a comment or two on this article. I did have the impression from the trailer that the movie is a bit corney in actualization, though I will go to see and, I suspect, it will stir interest once it arrives here in Germany. The critic of the film has not, indeed, understood the nature of art as the "expression" of humans, individually and collectively, diachronically and synchronically. You see such "expressions" are means through which the "me" (= the manifold what concerns ME) gains self-consciousness, gains awareness of itself as the "I" sustaining the "me" and imparting to all the "me's" self-identity. The path from "me" to "I" is a long one and entails developmental psychology as, for example, to be found in Becker's "Birth and Death of Meaning". For the moment I will just focus upon one tiny aspect of the criticism of the film, i.e., the substitution of "puppies" for "art works".

Hitler had a puppy that became his OWN German shepard. In the few film clips showing the two interacting it is clear that Hitler was the alpha figure. It is also clear that Hitler cared for that dog. (Hitler was a "human being", in essence no different from you or me, just perversted so terribly >> to treat Hitler as a monster out of the blue is to lose insight into what drove him on as a human being).

Now Hitler and other Nazis (particularly Göring) collected art works and, as the end approached, made some effort to perserve them. Some were placed in a defensive tower in Berlin that the Russians could not explode. Yet, they finally took it and destroyed, not intentionally, in flames some marvelous paintings. The importance of art as an "expression" of the "me >> I" for humans, even distorted one such as the Nazis, can be seen in the fact that Hitler poisoned his dog, testing the efficacy of the capsule he would use on himself. Hitler (nor Göring) did not destroy art works, just a grown up puppy. An art work or a work of art externalizes "meaning" enabling the viewer to participate in what has given meaning to the life of others, be it but an "expression". The equation of a puppy with a work of art is a faulty criticism in that it misses the serious function of art. That the Americans sought to save human "expressions" embodied in art is really a praiseworthy deed, one implying recognition of the human in truth in us all.

Ironic note: The Soviets did rob the Germans of some German created art. Most of it is still in Russia (I have seen some at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg)... and they ain't going to give it back. The feeling here in Germany is that something expressing German culture over centuries has been taken from them. And I understand the feeling. And such a feeling brings to light to importance, the meaning of art over puppies.


36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Kennicott is worse than an absolute fool. He is an existential hater, loathing the very notion of something beyond his own narrow, priggish self-indulgent id ( and yes, I know Freud very well).
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
(and I'm not too shoddy on WWII history either)
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
I could, however, live in a world without WaPo movie reviewers.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
He probably learned that the S in NSDAP stood for Socialist (English Translation) and anything socialist can't be all bad.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Youmay be making an error here. I take your remark about "anything socialist" to be full of irony. Substitute, however, "anything human", even in its most evil of forms, for "socialist" and the "can't be all bad" obtains a certain truth. Viewing the art that Nazism produced leaves one with a feeling that it is trite and banal. And that it is, but it does allow meaningful insight into the "meaning" parameters of the Nazis. There is a premise to my thoughts: "But for the grace of God, there go I". If my father had returned to Germany, who knows what "I" might have become. I have been obsessed with the desire to understand, and not just in abstract theory, what could change the culture of Goethe and Schiller (18th Century greats) into a culture of Hitler and Himmler. There is a distorted continuity, but a continuity and it concerns me. I return to my thesis: Even the most profound evil in us humans, "can't be all bad" or it would not be human. In this light, art, even banal and second rate, can offer insight into the "human" in all of us.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
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