Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Guest Post - The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men
This year, I am thrilled to be partnering with my dear friend Jamie for her Before the Silver Screen project. She is reading the books this year's blockbusters are based on before they hit theaters. Check out her blog to read all the reviews!

We should probably all just agree that we loved Jamie's guest post about Labor Day last week. If you have not read it yet, you definitely should. I had no interest in seeing the movie or really reading the book before her guest post; that changed.

Because Hollywood waits for no man, Jamie's next review and guest post is coming right on the heels of the last one.  In general, these guest posts will be spaced out a bit more, but I am too excited about this one to wait!

I have been dying to see/read The Monuments Men since I saw the trailer. It's been billed as some sort of historically based Oceans movie. What could be better? Well, it's based on a book and a real life story. Better.

Originally, I wanted to read this with Jamie, but by the time I hit my library's website, I was 200-something on the waiting list for the book. I hope to read it later this year. For now, though, you can enjoy Jamie's thoughts on the book and the adaptation.

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The Book:
I have to say, I’m thoroughly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book. I am going to try very hard to write up a concise review, keeping it as short as I can, but I make no promises! I continually stopped reading to inform my husband of facts and anecdotes learned from the book, so you’re lucky I’m giving you the gist of it! 
I’ll openly and unashamedly admit to not loving the historical genre. I don’t often find myself reading books about wars or famous leaders, but I am a sucker for a good story. The Monuments Men is about an event we all know so well, but gives us insight to a whole different kind of war being waged in Europe during Hitlers reign. The book feels slightly like a collection of short stories, with chapters focused on each man and their current intent on conservation. We learn what happened to the most illustrious, famous, and important pieces of art during the German occupation. I found myself googling titles wanting to see what these men risked their lives to save. 
I did have some trouble keeping each soldier and art expert separate in my mind, with the names and titles blurring together until I forced myself to jump back to the handy list of main characters. Their stories are told in a delightfully jumbled manner that gives us the most important highlights to their immense missions. These men were to save any building or piece of art that were culturally significant. At the same time they had to weigh the cost of human lives against the preservation of these cultural artifacts. Their stories are that of real life treasure hunters, making sure generations to come would be able to know and enjoy our history.
I won’t delve too deep into any one storyline but I want to make sure I mention Rose Valland, who is to me the greatest hero in the book. She was a French citizen so intent on preserving her culture and the precious art pieces that she spied for the French Resistance. She very frequently put her life in danger to make sure important information she garnered would be of good use to someone. She did absolutely amazing things and I can only hope she gets the screen time she deserves.
With regards to the movie, I am not entirely looking forward to seeing it. From what I’ve read about it the film diverges from the accurate stories and will create fictitious scenes for the sake of making a hit. I am very curious to see how it turns out. Regardless of the film, I strongly urge any art lover, history lover, or anyone that cares about heroes to take some time and read this book. It’s definitely not an easy read but wholeheartedly worth your time!
The Movie:
I am so glad I went into the theater with such low expectations. This film is probably the most inaccurate adaptation I have ever seen. So many facts were changed, storylines were fabricated out of thin air, and major facts completely removed from the story. Virtually every single name was changed and I’m not sure if Clooney, who wrote the screenplay, chose to do so or was forced due to the inaccurate portrayals. 
I expected a moderate amount of changes that are required for a film version but I was not prepared for how much Clooney absolutely butchered my favorite character from the book. According to Wikipedia, “Rose Valland an inspiration for the character of Claire Simone,” but I only saw very little of the person we came to know in the book. Clooney made her a weak and desperate woman, putting her in situations that were incredibly unlike Rose. Granted, I was not there and I did not know her but the research I’ve done on her shows that the book did her justice. Claire Simone made me sick and I am deeply disappointed in Clooney and any executives that allowed him to make those changes.
Now that my rant is over, let’s talk about the rest of the film. The star studded cast was well chosen but put to very little use. There was no depth to the characters, we saw absolutely zero development with these soldiers and I found myself wondering if I even cared about them or their missions. I found myself laughing at the jokes, which were well written and timed, but I felt it cheapened the whole experience. The story itself was incredibly rushed, they spent screentime on useless shots and scenes that should have been spent accurately telling the story of how these men and woman saved the most important historical artifacts. 
Ultimately, I am wholeheartedly disappointed in the film. It wasn’t horrible but it definitely wasn’t good so I would definitely encourage any historians or art lovers to read the book! I know it’s long and there’s so much information but it will be well worth it!
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Ah - so now I'm completely torn about whether I should read the book or see the movie first! Most likely, I'll revert to whichever lands in my lap first. If I have the chance, though, I think I am going to make a concerted effort to watch the movie first (blasphemy, I know!) so I can then supplement it with the true story. I really want to be able to enjoy the movie, but I know I will like the book more. It's inevitable.

What do you think about twisting the history of a book to make a better movie? Is it an acceptable option or should Hollywood always stay as close to the truth as possible? What are acceptable changes and what are not?

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