The Monuments Men (2014)

I was going to lead this post off with the Churchill quote, about how he’s asked how can money be spent on the arts during a war, and Churchill replied, “What then are we fighting for?” Too bad, it’s a made-up quote. Oh, the internet.

I went up this afternoon to see The Monuments Men at The Uptown. What isn’t to like, right? Based on the non-fiction book by Robert Edsel about a team of art specialists put together to recover what the Nazis had looted and stolen from across Europe, co-written, directed, and starring George Clooney, with a supporting cast including Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray (!!!), Jean Dujardin (the guy from the silent film The Artist, also starring Goodman), and Hugh Bonneville (from Downton Abbey, as a washed up drunk offered a chance at redemption).

It isn’t that the movie is bad. It isn’t even that the movie isn’t good. It’s that the movie doesn’t feel cohesive – story? We can work something together! And I don’t know how I can make this claim as I haven’t read the book, but it feels like if I had read the book, I would understand better how what amounts to an hour and a half of almost seemingly unlinked vignettes link together. Call me silly, but I think I should be able to watch a movie without having to reference a book to try to puzzle my way through the plot – there’s a whole bit about Matt Damon being smuggled into France with the French resistance to get him into Paris ahead of the Allies, but when he arrives in Paris, he’s in full uniform, sort of implying the Allies are there too — did the American troops just arrive earlier than expected? Was Damon delayed? It wasn’t clear to me.

I think, when people are making films of non-fiction books, there’s a tug of war between scripting a good movie, and scripting a historically accurate movie. Monuments Men makes the case that if you’re interested in being historically accurate (and I can’t say – haven’t read the book), just make a damn documentary.

I didn’t feel like I’d wasted going to see the film. At the same time, I would have been happy waiting until it was out on DVD or streaming on Netflix.

And ironically, as the movie was about art, can we talk about the missing artwork at The Uptown?

The Uptown, built in 1936, is a historic movie theater in Washington, DC, located in Cleveland Park (near the Zoo). Cleveland Park, waaaay back in the day, was where the hoighty-toighty of the District would take their summers to escape the city heat. The theater is a single screen with a large balcony, owned and operated by AMC. After my own heart is this little fact: the Uptown was one of only 36 theaters in the U.S. to screen Star Wars on opening day in 1977 (it would, of course, go wider).

The first movie I saw at The Uptown was Dances With Wolves, and this had to be 1989 or 1990. Went with my folks. I remember being bored to tears by the movie; I was like twelve, okay? I found an appreciation for it in later years. The second movie I saw here was Contact, with a couple of friends. And then I moved to DC many years later, and live only a short walk away. I can’t even count the films I’ve seen here in the last five and a half years: The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises; Harry Potter 6 and 7 and 7 part 2; Oblivion; Argo; State of Play; Star Trek Into Darkness; Hunger Games; Skyfall and Quantum of Solace; American Hustle; Red Tails; more that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

It used to be that the upper level of the theater, behind the balcony, there were large posters of classic films. I mean, classic if you grew up in the 80s and 90s: Back to the Future, Cape Fear (which I’ve never actually seen), City Slickers. And when I say oversize, I mean larger than your regular 27×40 movie posters.

Well, sadly, they’re gone. I noticed for the first time that they were gone when I went to see American Hustle on Christmas Eve. There was repair work done to the theater (notably to a bannister that looked like it had been ripped off the wall and was sort of gently placed back in the wall), and maybe a fresh coat of paint, so I thought perhaps the posters had been taken down temporarily and would be back up at some point.

Well: six weeks later, still no posters. It’s ironic to go to a movie about recovering lost art and realize that the theater you’re seeing it in is suffering from some lost art of its own. Hopefully those posters will find their way back to The Uptown.