George Clooney;Matt Damon



George Clooney talks about the real men behind his new film, The Monuments Men and what they did to save the world’s art treasures.

George Clooney takes his place in front of and behind the camera as he stars in and directs the upcoming dramedy, The Monuments Men.

The movie tells the story of a group of passionate art lovers including museum directors, curators architects and art scholars who went to the front lines during World War II to hunt down and save some of the greatest works of art from getting lost or destroyed in the chaos.

“The story of the Monuments Men is one that really very few people know,” Clooney revealed. “These were men that were far beyond the age that they were going to be drafted into a war or volunteer. But they took on this adventure, because they had this belief that culture can be destroyed. If they’d failed, it could have meant the loss of six million pieces of art.”

In actuality, the Monuments Men was actually a mixed gendered group of more than 300 art lovers from 13 different nations who volunteered to serve in the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives program. This program was dedicated to retrieving priceless artworks, which had been stolen by the Nazis on Hitler’s command.

The Nazis looted more than five million of the greatest cultural treasures of Europe, including paintings, tapestries, drawings, sculptures and rare books. When Hitler realized that he was fighting a losing war, he initiated the “Demolitions on Reich Territory Decree” which was nicknamed “Nero’s Decree.” This stated that if anything happened to Hitler, all the cultural treasured amassed by the Nazis would be destroyed, making the Monuments Men’s job absolutely crucial.

“Even today, people are still trying to get back the art that was looted from their families by the Nazis,” says co-writer Grant Heslov. “There are still thousands of works that are still lost. There are paintings that are hanging in people’s homes or hidden in plain sight on the walls of museums. Can you imagine if all of that had just been destroyed?  It would have been a catastrophe.”

When the American art community heard of this decree, they banded together and approached President Franklin D. Roosevelt who authorized the creation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, which opened the door to the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives program, aka the Monuments Men.

Matt Damon;Cate Blanchett“In August 1943, the Allies nearly destroyed The Last Supper inadvertently,” said Robert M. Edsel, the author of the book The Monuments Men. “I think that set off the alarm bells and accelerated getting the monuments officers into the field.”

“These men were spurred on by a higher ideal.  So many of the works that we take for granted in the great museums of the world were returned by this band of men – it was a near impossible task,” explained Cate Blanchett who plays Claire Simone, a woman with insider knowledge on the whereabouts of some artwork. “Absurd, in a way: non military men going to the front lines and asking generals to stop bombing a certain church or area to save a window, or a sculpture or mural – you wonder how they were able to save anything at all. It’s an extraordinary, selfless thing that they did, done to preserve history.

Matt Damon, who also stars as a member of the elite group said of the real life heroes, “These guys risked their lives to rescue our shared history and culture… to go after that art and try and save it was this incredibly noble endeavour.” The military even got on board with soldiers, who were ordered not to blow up buildings like churches, asking if they had helped in saving any process art.

While the characters in The Monuments Men are all based on real people, co-writers Clooney and Heslov admit to taking liberties including inventing new characters. “For the film, we wanted some of the characters to be flawed – we felt it would help the audience empathize with them as we tell the story,” said Clooney. “But it’s not really fair to take a great man’s real name and then give him a flaw he didn’t have in real life. We invented a few mundane scenes, just to help the story along, but the things in the movie that you’d think are so ridiculous and strange, ‘Well, there’s no way that those actually happened’ – those are the things that actually happened,” Clooney revealed.

 The Monuments Men opens this Friday, February 7 and stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett.  Directed by George Clooney.  Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter.





—By Sarah Khan

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