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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

Throughout the film, this question was posed in different forms: Considering the lives lost, the utter destruction of a world at war, and within the larger scheme of life, why should anyone care about art? Does a painting really matter? What is the worth of a statue compared to the life of a man? Why should we bother to save it?

The fact is that no one, not the real life Monuments Men, nor their fictional counterparts went into the mission believing the physical matter of boards, canvas or marble are of the equal value of a man. This was clear from the start–yet lives were risked, and lost. In spite of this clarity, Kennicott opines,

“But to get to the fundamental dumbness of Clooney’s film, we again need to use the puppy substitution: Hitler, he tells us, hates puppies, which is why he is rounding up all the puppies and keeping them for himself. This doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

Which thoroughly exposes the Kennicott’s just-don’t-get-it factor. Here’s where Becker comes in.

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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.
43 weeks ago
43 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.


43 weeks ago
43 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).
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
(and I'm not too shoddy on WWII history either)
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I could, however, live in a world without WaPo movie reviewers.
43 weeks ago
43 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.
43 weeks ago
43 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.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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