[THE RAPE OF EUROPA screens Saturday February 15th at 6:45 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.
Perhaps I set my sights
too low, aiming at a publicity job; they should have hired me as Museum
director. I got some schooling, and I know how to tell Japanese kabuki
scrolls from Dogs Playing Poker, and so I would hang those in the
appropriate places. Worst I would do as Cleveland Museum of Art
director: I'd probably sneak into the Armor Court after hours and make
silly videos to post on YouTube. I'd be in a loincloth and big boots and
wave a giant sword around and act like a Robert E. Howard character,
bellowing challenges to the exhibits. "I AM KONAN! YOUR METAL-CLAD
WARRIORS DO NOT DAUNT ME! RELEASE PRINCESS BOSOMIA AT ONCE!"
think the average Clevelander would greatly enjoy that. More so than
Glazen Creative's short video of local sports coach Mike Hargrove
touring the pre-scandal Art Museum, anyone remember that outreach to Joe
Anyway, the exhortation is now to let the
healing begin, everyone come and enjoy the golden jewel of University
Circle, blah blah blah. I can tell you at least one component of the
Cleveland Museum of Art that seems to be untainted, and that's the CMA
film series, which hasn't yet followed the CMA and the rest of Cuyahoga
Country into flagrant corruption. Probably because series coordinator
John Ewing has never followed my programming advice.
His revival this week: THE RAPE OF EUROPA, a 2009 documentary epic with a natural tie-in to the upcoming Oscar-bait historical drama MONUMENTS MEN. Based on the book by Lynn Nicholas, THE RAPE OF EUROPA tells quite a story, about the fate of European art treasures during WWII, both on the Eastern and Western Fronts, after the Wermacht was unleashed on Poland in 1939.
movie (narrated by actress Joan Allen) is, if anything, overstuffed
with detail that a thick book can more gracefully contain; you can
suffer a veritable Stendahl syndrome (mental overload after overexposure
to art - also title of a Dario Argento horror flick) here from the
sights, sounds, themes and shifting vistas and battlefields.
as we know, was a painter of traditional watercolors whose career might
have been very different had he not been turned down by art school
(hey, I too have had job applications turned down by art schools...Must
now ponder choosing good over evil. Thanks, Cleveland).
to power as a megalomaniac conquerer/messiah of the Aryan race (Hitler,
I mean), the dictator planned in meticulous detail a mighty museum in
the town Linz that would display all the great art treasure of the ages
that the Thousand-Year Reich would capture from its enemies. German
soldiers in special units marched into battle in Poland with shopping
lists. Heroic efforts by common citizens
and comrades in Paris and Leningrad strove to hide most of the artwork, in
the south of France and Siberia, before the Nazi marauders could strip/destroy as they had in Warsaw and Cracow.
was still insanely planning the Linz museum right up until his final
days in the Berlin Bunker. Governments and galleries to this day fight
it out in court over who has proper ownership of some of the countless
paintings, sculptures and relics recovered after V-E Day, and many
pieces remain lost. From time to time the documentary cuts to one of
those ongoing imbroglios with the surviving witnesses, lawyers and
arts-and-culture ministers on both sides, and that really brings the
(It's a great proud-to-be-an-American
moment (infrequent in documentary films circa the Bush era) when a
museum in Utah finds out its prized Bouchet canvas was looted and
returns it to original gallery-owner's descendants without argument.
Maybe Romney should have won the White House after all, or were you way
ahead of me with that?)
Still, as US troops drove into
combat, it became a dilemma for Gen. Eisenhower how to bomb the Axis
powers without obliterating the priceless artifacts. Some treasures were
saved by pure luck, others by tight-focused surgical strikes that
sought to drop the bombs while purposefully avoid the hoardings,
museums, galleries and monuments. Even with art historians embedded with
the troops to ensure the cultural heritage of Europe survived, many a
G.I. and officer bristled at the idea of putting antique paintings ahead
of men's lives. THE RAPE OF EUROPA never mentions it, but a couple of Hollywood war pictures later dramatized this theme, John Frankenheimer's THE TRAIN and Sydney Pollack's CASTLE KEEP.
Field Marshall Hermann Goering was an unintended savior-figure.
Undiscriminating in his desire to accumulate and build his own
collection, he took in and thus preserved a trove of works Hitler and
his cronies would have considered too "degenerate." And, as the vengeful
Red Army pushed into German territory, the Russians gave as good as
they got. Stalin's "Trophy Squads" carted Teutonic treasures back to the
Soviet Motherland, where many now remain.
have been fair (but widened film's already wide net still further) to
mention that strategic art plunder was also carried out by Napoleon, by
the British Empire, by imperialists all the way back to the Rome of the
Caesars, and probably before that. I know that because I read books on
I like saying my favorite genres of art are (1)
forgery (2) theft and (3) plunder. I would have made a hell of a museum
director, I tell you. Maybe on second thought I indeed would have
trashed some of the suits in the Armor Court - but only as
performance-protest against further lousy IRON MAN sequels. (3 1/2 out of 4 stars)