Friday, February 14, 2014

2013 Animated Short Film Oscar Nominees, The Monuments Men, and Tim's Vermeer

               Golden Fantasies and Grim Realities
This posting is the second of 3 that will focus on slightly-detailed commentary on 1 of the groups of 2013 Oscar-nominated Short Films, with this week’s exploration of the Animated ones (Live Action Shorts were detailed in our February 6, 2014 post; the Short Documentaries will be featured next time).  Following that commentary I’ll offer you a review of the latest film directed by and starring George Clooney, The Monuments Men, about the valiant efforts of dedicated culture-preservers to protect valuable works of art stolen by the Nazis during WW II, along with another art-centric film, the documentary Tim’s Vermeer (directed by Teller of the famous magician duo Penn and Teller) about a tech wizard who painstakingly recreates a famous painting using optical devices rather than raw artistic talent.  So, please plow through the usual opening reminders, then join me first for a short tour of some interesting animated work.  I’ll also note that this review package marks a first for me—Ken Burke (Pat Craig’s still MIA for this site, but we all know that will change someday)— in that through now being on a couple of local press lists (through the generosity of the involved publicists) and an invitation to another screening (from a local film critic friend who’s on the other San Francisco press list) I was able to see all of these films this week at advance screenings or through online access so this is a totally fee-free-collection of subject matter where I’m actually fully functioning like the pros for a change, bringing you information on material that may just now be opening in your area, so please take note of that regarding our regular Spoiler Alert warnings, such as the one that appears just below each time we meet at the Two Guys site but please read on in as much detail as you prefer.

[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting.  But please be aware that the links we recommend in our reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
At least until the Oscars for 2013 have been awarded on Sunday, March 2, 2014 (which, in no relationship whatsoever, is also Texas Independence Day—some things you don’t forget after they’ve been drummed into you for 37 years [after which I finally escaped to California]) I’m also going to include reminders in each review posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2013 films made various individual critic's Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success—which you can monitor here—and any sort of critical/statuette recognition), but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the  Golden Globe winners for films and TV from 2013, along with the Oscar nominations  here.
As I noted last week, depending on where you live—and when any of the 4 programs of Oscar-nominated Short Films (with the Documentary group in 2 segments due to overall length) might be opening in your area—you may have access to these more-obscure-cinematic offerings or not; if you consult the general website for all of the film programs at http://theoscarshorts.shorts. tv/ you can check out the Dates & Locations link for a full U.S. map that shows everywhere any of these are playing within 500 miles of your location.  Those of you who’d prefer to see these for yourself before reading any further here are encouraged to do so—although you might want to check out a very brief set of trailers at—but for the rest of you I’ll offer somewhat detailed descriptions of what goes on in these films, this week the Animated Shorts, so that you can be better informed by Oscar awards night this coming March 2.  You can also consult the Rotten Tomatoes site at nominated_animated_short_films_2014/ for a bit more detail as well, where you’ll find a very rare 100% positive response to this Animated program, but that’s based on only 19 reviews when I wrote these comments so you might check back later to see if anything has changed (and do remember that in RT the percentage is based on positive, mixed, or negative reviews so even if all of them are positive—thus, yielding the extremely-rare-100%-result—that doesn’t necessarily mean that the involved critics felt that all 5 of these entries were among the finest work they’d ever seen but just that the overall experience and average of the group amounted to a positive reaction, which might be anywhere from about 70% on up in the mind of an individual reviewer).  Rather than giving you an average for these Shorts I’ll comment on each film, although I can say that my overall response also falls into the positive zone, just not as enthusiastically as were my February 6, 2014 comments on the 2013 Live Action Shorts nor as will be my reactions in my next posting to last year’s Documentary Shorts.  I was pleased with all of the Animated contenders, but I can’t really say that any of them enthralled me as much as I hope to see from an Oscar winner.  Given that I didn’t see this group in a theatre but individually on websites I’ll take them in alphabetical order (as you’ll find on an Oscar ballot), which leaves me not knowing what the impact of them as a group is in their public presentational order; if anyone sees them at a screening and wishes to comment on that aspect of their collective presence I’d be glad to hear from you.
Feral   Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden [Academy info indicates Golden as
co-director but the film’s credits clarify that he’s responsible for music and sound design]  (USA, 13 min.)

The situation here is there’s a naked, feral child living in the woods, watching a pack of wolves kill and eat a deer while howling as if he’s part of the family.  In rapid succession in this truly short work a hunter arrives on horseback in the snowy environment, brings the lost boy (despite his initial resistance) back to civilization (depicted in a very nice manner, as geometric shapes fall into place, accumulating into the clusters of buildings that imply a human settlement in stark contrast to the open forest lands that the child previously understood as his natural environment), cleans him up, and sends him to school.  That doesn’t work out well, however, as his first day’s hesitation and difference around the other kids leads first to his ostracization, then the taunting that’s unfortunately so common among the young whenever they encounter anyone who doesn’t conform to their socialized standards. (Despite all of the noise made by real kids, just like the ones so concisely depicted here, about how individual and independent they all are, yet when anyone truly different walks in they all get hostile.  What?  With comments like that, you think I still have some repressed childhood memories to purge?  Not a bit!  As long as you keep passing me the Prozac … or bourbon … or both … whaddya say, pal?)  Soon our boy is locked in a cage with nearby barnyard animals; when his rescuer comes to visit, the child escapes, running like the wind through the town back to the wild—shedding his clothes in the process—in a series of rapid, fragmented images even more expressionistically-swirling and abstracted than has been the intriguing rendering style up to this point.  I admire the clarity, brevity, and active flow of this story, but aside from appreciating the presentational technique it just doesn’t do a lot for me in terms of engagement during the process nor contemplation after the fact (certainly it conjures up Lord of the Flies [novel by William Golding (1954), adapted to films of the same name by Peter Brook (1963) and Harry Hook (1990)] or the François Truffaut film The Wild Child [1970] but not in a manner that adds much to those previous explorations of similar themes, although in such a limited short-film-setting I admit it’s hard to do much of anything original when you need all of your chosen time—but not allotted [unless production costs mandated the restriction], so the filmmakers still bear responsibility here—just to establish the premise, then fly to the conclusion).  Having not seen what else was available for the choice of final contenders, all I can say is that compared to some past Oscar-nominated Animated Short Film programs I just didn’t find the 2013 final collection to be that engaging, with Feral as a good example of something that whisks its possibilities past you in an effective length and energetic flow but comes across as being much more about unified, proficient technique than encouraging any sort of “Wow!” reaction.  There’s an official site, along with a trailer which for me gives you all you need to see despite its brief 1:20 run time (it’s actually a nice summary of the film if you don’t get a chance to see it in person).  Next on our list, though, is one that’s a lot more interesting to me, even though it has its familiar aspects as well.
Get A Horse!   Laurent MacMullan, Dorothy McKim [again this listing from the Oscar ballot implies co-directors but McKim is identified in the credits as producer; it’s definite, though, that MacMullan is the first female director of a Disney theatrical short—hooray for her!]  (USA, 6 min.)

The most fascinating thing about Get a Horse is that you could easily mistake its beginning for a long-lost-1928-era Mickey Mouse cartoon (especially when you find that all of Mickey’s utterances are from the voice of Walt Disney [pulled from the archives of previous Mickey cartoons], who used to be his famous character’s alter-ego simply because no other voice talent could quite match what Walt had in mind for the mouse to sound like) which had been given some Academy dispensation to compete decades after its creation.  You’re introduced to Mickey and Minnie Mouse—in a standard early-sound-cartoon-situation as simple hand-drawings in black-and-white give us delightful surreal situations where the laws of physics seemingly have no existence—along with their earliest on-screen-collaborators including Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and a bunch of other animated animals who never developed distinct personalities; then they’re menaced by huge Peg-Leg Pete, Mickey’s early nemesis who not only captures Minnie but somehow throws Mickey out into the realm of our theater audience to prevent any rescue attempts.  However, once Mickey is on our side of the screen he’s now in a full-color, CGI, 3-D rendering which tips us off that this is all-new, combining contemporary technological capabilities with the actual type of hand-drawn-imagery that first endeared Mickey and friends to a worldwide audience, setting the Disney empire in motion toward its current power-player-position in worldwide media industries.  We especially understand that Get a Horse! (with the “A” capitalized in Disney promo materials but lower-cased by the Academy) isn’t just some crafty combination of an old short with new footage when the first tear occurs in the screen, leading to crazy chases where the characters run back and forth between their existence and ours.  (I’m sure this trope has been used a good many times, but the most notable memories I have of the concept are in The Purple Rose of Cairo [Woody Allen, 1985; if I dare mention an Allen film featuring Mia Farrow as the female lead]—a comic story with a sad ending where a woebegone Depression-era-housewife/movie buff, Cecilia [Farrow], enters the world behind the screen at the urging of one of the film-within-the-film’s characters, Tom Baxter [Jeff Daniels]—and The Last Action Hero [John McTierman, 1993]—a parody of action movies such as this one, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jack Slater in this movie-within-the-movie where a boy, Danny Madigan [Austin O’Brien], finds himself behind the screen involved in the flow of the contained movie plot, then both he and Slater come into our space in order to prevent the movie villain [another “immigrant” into our territory] from wrecking havoc in the “real” dimension of those of us watching all of this space-time-anomoly.)

Interestingly, in comparison to Get a Horse! (for consistency’s sake I’ll stay with the Academy's version of the title) everything in The Last Action Hero is in color on both sides of the screen because that’s also the nature of the contained movie being depicted, while in The Purple Rose of Cairo that film’s contained B&W world remains that way both on-and-behind-screen, just not in Cecilia’s bleak-but-still-fully-hued-New Jersey; yet in the Disney cartoon we get an unexpected complexity where Mickey’s world does exist in color just as ours does, but the screen acts as an achromatic filter to render it in B&W to our eyes until such time as those holes reveal a full-color-world that we’ve previously been prevented from seeing.  Beyond the very creative concept of the dual worlds coexisting there’s not much more going on here than would be expected from a very-early-sound-era-story of lots of frantic action, limited vocalization, and plenty of non-lethal-violence dished out to Pete in response to his threats to Minnie (although, as with King Kong’s “brides,” we’re never really sure what he intends to do with her because, after all, we are in the land of eternal-G-rated-content in these cartoons).  It’s a lot of fun to watch, though, and could well be embraced by the Oscar voters because of the long, successful association of Mickey Mouse with Hollywood success; should they decide to honor Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee; review in our January 24, 2014 posting) with the Best Animated Feature award along with Get a Horse! then we’ll have the same successful pairing that’s been in theaters fort the last few months.  You can get more information at the official site of Get a Horse!, watch the first 1:10 min., and keep up with critical reaction at Rotten Tomatoes if you like (but check back later when they’ve got more reviews than just 1, even if it has begun the positive tally).
Mr. Hublot   Lauren Witz, Alexandre Espigares [this time we do have actual co-directors]  (Luxembourg and France, 11 min.)

I greatly admire the look of the images in Mr. Hublot, but as a story it doesn’t really go very far.  The premise is that we’re observing some version of a Jules Verne-like place where everything, including the inhabitants, looks like some sort of late-19th-century-complex-mechanical-structure (which does make for an interesting retro-look in our increasingly-sleek-high-tech-global-cultures, in the same manner that the first ride you now encounter at the renovated Disneyland Tomorrowland area [at least in Anaheim; I can’t speak for the other locations] has that same sort of industrial-mechanical-appearance evoking Verne, as a statement that while we might want to always aspire to the next level of futuristic thinking that such an ideal has always been in place in the minds of artists and visionaries even though what looked “far out” to past generations may now look extremely dated to us), so there are echoes here of the art direction and production design of Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) and Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011).  Given those easy associations it’s a pleasure to see the complexity of the animated renderings of this mechanical environment, but there’s not much that’s truly unique or intriguing about what’s being depicted (the producers say it’s a “postindustrial environment where nature has totally disappeared and so have most of ‘human' feelings," but that just brings me back to something like Blade Runner [Ridley Scott, 1982 … 1992, 2007 with the director’s cuts] so I’m still just visually-satisfied, not narratively-intrigued).  In a brief summary of the plot (as such), the title character is a recluse accountant who stays out of the way of society in his comfortable apartment until his tranquility is broken up by the addition of a mechanical dog.  Oddly enough, the dog seems to eat organic meat (from an automatic dispenser that reminds me exactly of the same device in the opening scene of Back to the Future [Robert Zemeckis, 1985])—or at least that’s what it looks like to me—which is a bit odd considering how everything else here seems to run on oil), but whatever the content of those dog food cans it causes a constant increase in size to the point where the pooch can barely maneuver within Hublot’s confined space.  For a brief moment we get the impression that Mr. Hublot is forced to take drastic action by dismantling the dog, but then we move to the final scene where he’s simply bought the nearby-but-abandoned-factory/warehouse so that “Fido” (I never caught any real name for this mechanical mutt) has abundant room to romp even though he’s now about twice as big as Hublot.  It’s a pleasant-enough-whimsical-tale with exquisitely-complex-details in the visual renderings, but, again, without knowing what else the screening committee had to choose from in determining their 5 finalists I’m a bit surprised that this one is such a top contender.  However, it may appeal more to your sensibilities so feel free to visit the official site and watch (quickly) a trailer of Mr. Hublot’s activities.  You’ll see at the Zeilt Productions site how many “Best” awards this animated short has racked up over the last year, proving that my tastes are not in line with a good number of film festival voters, but to me Mr. Hublot is briefly interesting to watch but just too derivative of many things I’ve seen before without putting any particular new twist to them as did the Disney folks with Get a Horse!, so while I admire its intricate visual style I don't find that much going on here.
Possessions   Shuhei Morita (Japan, 14 min.)
If you’ve ever seen any Japanese animation before, the visual style here will look familiar but the story concept may be a bit unique, or at least it was to me.  We begin with graphics that tell us about an ancient legend describing how every 100 years tools and instruments attain souls (so they’re now known as Tsukumogami) in order to trick humans.  Following this introduction we observe the storm-besieged-journey of an 18th-century man working his way through a forest.  Seeking shelter he enters a small building where he’s confounded with animate, discarded objects that seem to be demanding a response from him before he can leave this “possessed” house.  In this very colorful, active swirl of mysterious encounters the man is confronted with numerous tattered umbrellas in the first room that he enters; when he’s allowed into the next room he’s overwhelmed by a large number of flying kimonos and the image of a woman facing away from him on one of the walls, although she eventually disappears.  As he enters the next room he’s confronted with a collection of junk that organizes itself into a dragon which he must confront and defeat but in a psychically-directed manner more so than a physical battle.  Essentially, the theme of this animated fable is that all of these former possessions must still be respected for the service they have provided to humans over the years, even though they’ve been cast aside as being torn or otherwise unusable.  The man accepts this revelation, then spends time repairing the various objects in his magical environment after which he’s allowed to leave the building out into the sunshine of a more-empowered day, taking with him an umbrella, a kimono, and a few other objects to acknowledge his new appreciation for and bonding with these strange Tsukumogami as he leaves the forest to look upon the final image, that of beautiful, inspiring Mt. Fuji.  You can see Possessions as just a dreamlike-story that features an active collage of flying objects and vivid colors or you could see the ecological metaphor about re-conceptualizing so-called-“useless”-castoffs, bringing them back into useful service as we must all better learn to reclaim and recycle rather than just drain resources by manufacturing more “possessions” to then be discarded when they’re no longer as whole as they once were upon first purchase or creation.  I have a feeling that the Oscar voters are going to be making choices between Disney and Japanese animation in both the feature and short film categories with Frozen and the last offering from master animator, Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises in the former group and Get a Horse! competing against Possessions in the latter.  We may have a split-vote strategy in order to honor both respected contributors (and previous Oscar winners in the Feature category) or maybe just one will take both prizes (unless I’m wrong and someone else nabs either or both of these statuettes), so stay tuned until this March 2 to see how it all comes out.  In the meantime I can offer you precious little else about Possessions except for a trailer from the Academy’s official Oscar site which gives you a very short clip, indeed (if there's an ad attached to it when you watch it, the ad will likely be longer than the clip).
Room on the Broom   Max Lang, Jan Lachauer [once again,
actual co-directors]  (UK, 25 min.)

Not ever having had children (a decision which continues to draw applause from those in Concerned Parents of the World, Inc.), I’m probably way out of my league in not being more enthralled with our last Animated Short Film nominee—while acknowledging that Room on the Broom, the film, is based on a very successful children’s picture book written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler—but given that the structure of the story becomes very obvious once the witch (voice of Gillian Anderson) takes pity on a dog (voice of Martin Clunes), then allows him to ride on her flying broomstick along with her and her not-interested-in-sharing-his-human-companion-cat (voice of Rob Brydon)—now there’s a reaction I do have experience with as Annie and Inky in my home are constantly trying to outwit each other for a spot on my lap—then it’s obvious that further situations will lead to even more passengers (Sally Hawkings voicing a bird, David Walliams voicing a frog—and while he’s not flying along with the menagerie we also have the constant voice of Simon Pegg as our narrator, moving the story along across the countryside) and increasing distain from the cat.  These repetitive actions (and an intentionally-restricted-animation-style that must mirror the look of the book) build well I’m sure, all the while offering useful object lessons in civility, for the target audience, but I was beginning to wonder when she was going to try to accommodate a bear and/or a giraffe on that overburdened broom.  The situation does get more tense for the good-hearted witch, though, as she’s being pursued by a huge, hungry dragon (voice of Timothy Spall) who must find witches to be a tasty treat; during her evasive actions to try to lose the monster her broom-riders all fall off but quickly devise a scheme to immerse themselves in mud, then form a scary-looking, multi-legged pyramid which frightens off the dragon, after which everyone is on the same team with the witch (of course it happens now, not before the danger on the previous rickety broomstick) who casts a spell to create a marvelous new flying lounge with seats for all (plus a nest for the bird and a little shower to keep the frog wet) so they can fly off to new adventures.  To find examples of other critics who are more soft-hearted (or better attuned to their inner child) than I am you can visit the Rotten Tomatoes site (but, again, wait awhile until they have more than just 1 positive response from an enthusiastic supporter); you can also see a clip from the film—runs for just 1 min. but it’s the longest one I could find—but if you’ve got 25 min. to spare you can see the entire film for free which I’m sure must thrill the folks at the official site where they’re offering to sell you a DVD of Room on the Broom, along with a lot of other related stuff about this story.  This is all very sweet and cute (and doesn’t even have the fantasy violence of Get a Horse! in that the dragon is simply scared away rather than being counter-attacked); however, for me it’s the weakest of the bunch in terms of what’s being accomplished with the medium of animation (at least Mr. Hublot was an intricate visual delight to see whereas Room on the Broom has justification in its much simpler visuals—which could almost be of pixilated objects except for the difficulty of producing so many scenes of flight with the stop-motion-animation process—but I think they’re the least-interesting to look at of all this category’s nominees, although I may well be in the shouted-down-minority here).
                           The Monuments Men

A largely unknown story of WW II is how a group of art professionals went into combat to help prevent destruction to cultural artifacts and retrieve those stolen by the Nazis.

If you’re a bit out of practice on your art history recollections I’ll remind all of us that this a photo of the famous Ghent Altarpiece (conceptualized in Flanders—which we now know as Belgium—by Hubert van Eyck, but he died in 1426 leaving the actual execution to his younger, more famous brother, Jan van Eyck, in 1430-1432, although there’s even more to be seen when these front panels are closed, but we don’t need to get into that much detail; if you’d like to immerse yourself in such completeness, though, while you can find some useful information from sites sponsored by the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art and the LA J. Paul Getty Museum, you can get a lot more at this site which may be from the debated-value-Wikipedia but in this instance the details are enormous, as are the verifying citations) with the finished product now residing in Ghent’s Saint Bavo Cathedral as an exemplary demonstration of how European artists made the transition from more abstracted, formulaic Gothic/Byzantine depictions of human and divine figures into the studied anatomy that characterizes sophisticated Renaissance work.  As such, it was one of the prize pieces of Nazi theft during WW II—along with other masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine—as the leaders of the Third Reich helped themselves to millions of pieces of public and private art (taken with vicious intent from Jewish collectors) intended to decorate the walls of the Führer’s upper-echelon-toadies but most especially to adorn the massive Führermuseum in Hitler’s home town of Linz, Austria (which, fortunately, never was built).

Retrieving this cultural-heritage-loot—including other famous pieces such as Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture, taken from Bruges, Belgium’s Church of Our Lady, in addition to other evidence of hundreds of years of cultural accomplishment (not to mention the fortune in gold also taken from victims of Nazi confiscation)—along with trying to help Allied armies avoid damaging valued historical sites, was the difficult, dangerous, seemingly-impossible task for a small group of dedicated art professionals working alongside the advancing multi-national-troops (including the Russians who were already in the position of transforming from friend to foe as they claimed land, people, and artifacts for themselves with their march in from the east) and retreating Germans who were now willing to destroy their treasure troves as defeat seemed inevitable.  These roughly 345 men and women (not surprising that the patriarchal attitudes of the times would lump them all under the name of “men,” although there were considerably more males in the group; you can learn a lot more about the actual Monuments Men at their official web sites) who made up the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Section under the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of those armies coming in from the west would be known to history as the “Monuments Men,” as they began their duties in 1943 under the Operations Branch of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), commanded by General (and future U.S. President, 1953-1961) Dwight D. Eisenhower; thanks to their efforts, over 5 million art and cultural items were recovered (although many were destroyed and others found their way into inappropriate private hands where they’re still being occasionally located and liberated).  As with so many other aspects of history that don’t rank up there with the events and personages given the most attention, however, the work of these cultural liberators has largely been forgotten, which is something that George Clooney hoped to rectify with his new film, with the clear and direct title of The Monuments Men, in which he’s one of the producers, a co-screenwriter, director, and main star along with a good number of other well-known Hollywood faces.

One face possibly not as easily-recognized by American audiences, despite his extensive career especially in TV series and movies, is that of Hugh Bonneville (shown here with Clooney because neither of them are that easily seen in the group shot to come below), although fans of the BBC/PBS mini-series Downton Abbey will know him as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, while others with good memories may recall him from roles in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997) and the Hugh Grant vehicle Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999).  In The Monuments Men (where none of these on-screen characters are directly representative of actual members of the MFAA Section but instead are loosely based on various ones of them, including an important leader, Lt. Cmdr. George Stout), Bonneville is Lt. Donald Jefferies, the British liaison with the mostly-American-squad, run by Clooney as Lt. Frank Stokes (essentially Stout but fictionalized).  While all members of the unit are dedicated to their respected cause (and supported by President Franklin D. Roosevelt), Jefferies is emblematic of their efforts, both because he has a more direct connection with the works he wants to preserve, especially the Michelangelo sculpture (he’s spent time with it in Bruges, developing a personal attachment to its graceful beauty) and because, of the primary 8 of them in the unit (including a German-speaking driver, Pvt. Sam Epstein [Dimitri Leonidas], that Stokes recruits for his own invaluable skill), Jefferies is 1 of the 2 killed in action, in his case while in the Bruges Church of Our Lady trying to provide protection but outmanned and outgunned by the Nazi group that gets into the sanctuary under false pretenses.  Thus, Jefferies also serves as symbolic of the actual MFAA which had virtually no official support for their mission, with few accompanying troops nor needed equipment, and possibly (at least as depicted in this film) some non-cooperation from “real” military commanders who were loath to spare any location with strategic value just because a bunch of eggheads wanted to protect some statues, frescoes, or architecture.

As noted, the actual Monuments Men group was considerably larger than the small squad presented in the film (aided by Parisian museum worker Claire Simone [Cate Blanchett], after she overcomes her mistrust of their mission [although I never could understand why she and Paris Nazi honcho Viktor Stahl (Justus von Dohnányi) spoke to each other only in English—useful for monolinguists such as myself but inconsistent with the rest of the film’s use of native-speaker-speech (or fumbling attempts to come off as such as with Matt Damon’s character’s butchering of French)—unless she truly didn’t speak German (or faked it) and he didn’t speak French so they had to use English as a mutual compromise], assuming that all they want to do is find the stolen artwork but then appropriate it for themselves—as major Western institutions have been doing for years, including Paris’ Louvre, but also NYC’s Met and London’s British Museum, especially with ancient treasures from Egypt and Greece [although Clooney has now joined those who advocate giving the fabled Elgin Marbles, pediment sculptures from the Acropolis, back to Athens]), but I can see that for storytelling purposes it’s more focused (and dramatic) to single out just a few individuals because it increases the sense of urgency that only these art zealots will be able to find the hidden treasures before they’re either destroyed by the Nazis or taken by the Russians as compensation for their millions killed during WW II.  So, to round out our cast in the above photo, from the left rear we have this group of museum directors, curators, sculptors, architects, and art historians:  Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon), Lt. Jefferies in the rear shadows working the projector as they go through a briefing after most of them barely pass basic training, then ship out to Europe just after D-Day in mid-1944, Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), and Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), the other casualty from within this group, fatally wounded when he and Garfield stumble onto a firefight that had nothing to do with their operation.

Unfortunately for this small group of fictionalized Monuments Men, their efforts were essentially leading nowhere until Granger was finally able to convince skeptical Simone that the MFAA efforts were sincere (had she listened to all of the speeches that Clooney’s character gives about the necessity of preserving our cultural heritage for the betterment of mankind she might have been cooperative much sooner, even if just to get him to shut up), especially when he finds a relatively small trove of artwork left behind as the Nazis evacuate Paris, one piece of which has an address on the back so he tracks down the abandoned apartment to hang the painting back on the wall even though she tells him that the former inhabitants (Jews sent off to extermination camps) won’t be coming back, to which he replies that his job is to put the stolen work back where it was taken from, no matter the situation of the former owners.  With her help (and changed attitude toward Granger, including a dinner seduction attempt that he politely refuses on behalf of his marriage, which he honors despite her tempting offer—a scene which to me cheapens a bit the contributions of supportive Allies and over-glamorizes a bit the loyalty and devotion to cause that these [mostly, as presented in this film] American-art-guardians represent) the squad now has a map of sites that they assume are the repositories of the stolen art, likely within heavily-guarded locations in these cities.  This is where Pvt. Epstein (a native German relocated by his family to New Jersey prior to coming back as a member of the U.S. Army) provides the other needed key, an interpretation of the map that leads Clooney and company to realize that the goods are actually stored underground in various salt, copper, and magnesium mines or in castles and country estates (or very unlikely places such as jail cells and coffins, as historical accounts reveal) so that these treasures can now be rescued in a more efficient fashion, although still mostly with begrudging cooperation from the higher-ranking military commanders.  In what normally could have been dismissed as a bit too melodramatic a finale, we find that the salt mines of Altaussee, Austria actually held the Holy Grail(s) of this story, the panels from the Ghent Altarpiece and the Michelangelo sculpture, but these must be evacuated in a race against time to prevent them from falling into the hands of the oncoming Russians (all of which is factual, although maybe played up a bit more tightly in temporal crisis than actually occurred, just as with the fully-fictionalized-escape-scene that probably sealed the Oscar Best Film success for Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012—also coproduced by Clooney; review in our October 19, 2012 posting).  In real life, however, the actual members of the MFAA still had a lot of postwar reclamation, restoration, and recordkeeping to finish rather than just returning victoriously back to the home front to resume their various civilian lives.  Sadly, they weren’t able to recover all of the stolen art, with thousands of pieces still missing, many being most valuable to the families or collectors from whom they were stolen but with some as almost priceless, the most famous one being Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man (painted 1513-14, possibly as a self-portrait), which is shown in The Monuments Men as being destroyed by the fleeing Nazis, a dramatic device used by Clooney to illustrate the wanton disregard these murderers had for anything of value that they could not control but an event which historians believe—possibly because of passionate optimism—is untrue, with great hopes that this missing masterpiece will resurface some day.

As many other film critics have already noted, though, even within the few days of The Monuments Men’s release, this project serves a marvelous noble purpose but just doesn’t come together as well as it might about a subject that’s hammered home by auteur Clooney as one of the great-but-generally-unknown-stories of what newsman Tom Brokaw has helped us better understand as “The Great Generation”’s war (if anything, The Monuments Men comes across as a high-budget History Channel TV movie, earnest but more instructional than engaging except for the calculated drama of such scenes as Lt. Granger stepping on a live land mine that he has to be carefully extracted from, in a situation all-too-reminiscent of the opening trauma for Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark [Steven Spielberg, 1981] concerning the removal of a golden idol [not a great day for archeology, Indy, given the theme of Clooney’s current film] without trigging a catastrophe for the thief).  Once the concept of protecting the cultural heritage of Western Civilization from destruction—intended or otherwise—has been established, then re-established through a good many heartfelt scenes and speeches, we’re then treated to what feels too much like an agent-necessitated-collection of plot maneuvers giving relatively equal time to each of the big-name-actors in this film.  Clooney’s made it clear that he’s grateful that this all-star-cast was wiling to work for considerably less than each of them could normally have demanded, and I’m sure he went after such a well-respected-collection of known-quantities to help him find a niche in the movie marketplace where he’d be competing against the likes of a more traditional war story in Lone Survivor (Peter Berg, 2013), more-innocuous-escapist-fare such as Ride Along (Tim Story), Frozen, and The Nut Job (Peter Lepeniotis), as well as Oscar-catchups, which this winter include American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013), and Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013), but even with a #2 opening last weekend against another bit of fantasy-escapism, The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord, Chris Miller), Clooney finds himself with a reasonable-but-not-encouraging opening take of $22 million against a $70 million budget while all of these others are piling in considerably more cash (LEGO soared to a huge $69 million domestic-box-office success in just 1 weekend), so whatever hope The Monuments Men has of better educating the public on an obscure aspect of war and its aftermath is up against a difficult task, especially with an another fantasy-action-assault already horning in on Monuments Men’s second week, the remake of Robocop (José Padilha) which is using the further advantage of a mid-week Wednesday opening (it's already taken in almost $3 million after just 1 day so it may hit a strong stride as it moves into the Valentine's Day/Presidents' Day weekend where action and romance fantasies will likely offer big trouble for the more seriously-conceived stories hoping for audiences).

However, despite its difficulties with script concept and viewer embrace, I still admire Clooney for putting so much effort into such a potentially-hard-sell-project rather than just coasting on his laurels with such seemingly easy fare for him as the cocksure astronaut in Gravity, where at least he got to interact with Sandra Bullock while she had to struggle through most of that experience as a distraught one-woman-show.  With all of this in mind, and given that The Monuments Men is ultimately about how art and culture provide a bridge from human accomplishments of the past into what we continue to take from that inspiration here in the present, thus justifying the sacrifices made by those who gave of themselves to preserve the heritage of Europe during the devastation of WW II or recapture the artifacts stolen by the Nazis in their attempt to pervert that heritage, I’d like to offer Simon and Garfunkel’s magnificent “Bridge over Troubled Water” (from the album of the same name, the final collaboration of their original careers, 1970) at watch?v=UVDg8fVC4EQ (performance at the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert held October 29-30, 2009 at Madison Square Garden, although if you’d like to just hear Garfunkel’s angelic voice by itself with this song here that is from the September 19, 1981 Simon and Garfunkel reunion concert in New York City’s Central Park at—as my first musical metaphor of this posting, in recognition of what The Monuments Men is trying to teach us about the need to find solace in the wonder that is all around us as well as preserve what has helped and inspired countless generations prior to us when the existence of such a hallowed heritage is threatened by the most callous of human actions.

                                Tim’s Vermeer

This documentary asks if Dutch master Johannes Vermeer used optical devices to make his paintings, possibly proven by the reproduction of one of his famous works.

More so than usual I’ll repeat my Spoiler Alert warning here because this film is opening in my San Francisco area about the same time as I get this review posted rather than being more after-the-fact-of-opening day as are the other subjects of my reviews this week, so please keep that in mind if you’d rather see Tim’s Vermeer before you see what I have to say about it.  Just as I began my last review with a reproduction of a famous painting, I’ll do the same here because this image of Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson is also essential to the documentary film that it becomes the Holy Grail of, just as the Ghent Altarpiece and the Michelangelo Madonna and Child sculpture were the symbolic driving forces of The Monuments Men.  Here, though, while the value and beauty of masterful art serves as a connection between these 2 films, this documentary directed by usually-mute Teller (that’s all of a name that he allows), of the famous Las Vegas magicians Penn and Teller, shows the meticulous and painstaking research carried out by technological inventor—but non-artist by his own admission—Tim Jenison, a long-time friend of narrator Penn Jillette, over a period of 8 years as Jenison set out to see if he could duplicate a Vermeer, specifically The Music Lesson, originally done sometime between 1662 and 1665, using only materials available to Vermeer at that time, including optical devices that may have aided him in his marvelous rendition of objects, light, color, and texture.  Jenison, currently of San Antonio, TX, had previously become financially-independent with his development of DigiView (a computer-based video digitizer), DigiPaint, and the Video Toaster.  With the freedom this allowed him to pursue a compulsive-personal-interest-project, Tim set about trying to prove that it was possible that Vermeer went from obscurity, with no records of painting apprenticeship, to master status producing the roughly 35 paintings that are currently attributed to him (as Irving Rosenfeld [Christian Bale] showed us in American Hustle, though, you can never be too sure what’s fake and what’s real, even with “authenticated” works hanging on prestigious museum walls) with the aid of optical devices that helped guide his paint application to produce results that surpassed most of his contemporaries in rendering details of objects and gradations of light and color that would seem to be more products of some sort of lens-based-image than what would be observed solely with the human eye.  It wasn’t Jenison’s desire to undermine the high regard in which Vermeer is held by art historians and other artists (you can get a marvelous overview of his work and the culture in which he produced it at this site) but simply to understand better Vermeer’s working methods in an experiment intended to bring science and art closer together.  Based on what he’d read in Professor Philip Steadman’s 2001 book, Vermeer's Camera, and painter David Hockney’s book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering Techniques of the Old Masters, 2001 (with both pro and con attitudes to explore if you wish), Jenison was very curious—if not already semi-convinced—that Vermeer had used some version of the long-known-device called the camera obscura, originally a dark room into which light from a hole in one wall threw an inverted, slightly-defocused image of the outside world onto the opposite wall; use of an optical lens in the light-allowing-hole or set within the path of the incoming light would produce a sharper image, giving rise to speculations that famous artists since the time of the Renaissance had used such a device to help them achieve the photographic-like-precision of their images, although earlier experiments had shown that you can’t put a canvas in the path of a camera obscura image and simply paint over it in a direct copy of nature because the image still isn’t that sharp and accurate, nor can you interrupt the flow of the light with your hand wielding a paint brush without interfering with your perception of the correct hue of the original subject matter.

Jenison then came upon the discoveries that if you use a small mirror at a 45-degree-angle to your camera obscura image (or anything taking its place, such as this photograph of his father-in-law as a young man, turned upside-down to replicate how light reverses and upends an image as it comes to a viewing surface—which is what happens both in your eyes [before your brain straightens it all out] and in modern cameras that are able to record those images) you could then reproduce on a flat surface (such as a canvas) below your mirror exactly what you see just at the mirror’s edge, which allows you to get a proper rendition of both the shapes and hues that you perceive, although it will take a lot of careful copying to finally finish your reproduction of the original.  With some further experimentation he found that you get a sharper, brighter image if the light from your original subject is first focused through a lens set up between the subject matter and your painting area but then is seen on a slightly concave mirror rather than a flat wall, so with those concepts in hand he set out to reproduce the Vermeer Music Lesson after working from reproductions to ascertain the exact dimensions of the room that the original had been painted in (Vermeer’s upstairs studio in his home, as verified by Steadman from careful measurements of a good many Vermeer works), then filling it with objects also the proper size and textural resemblance, models placed in the right locations, etc.  His main limitation—in addition to the many months it took to recreate Vermeer’s space in an empty location in San Antonio with good northern light, carefully imitating by personal manufacture almost every object in The Music Lesson—was not being able to carefully observe the original painting which is the property of Britain’s royal family, kept from public view in Buckingham Palace.  After numerous requests to Queen Elizabeth he was finally granted a 30 min. close look at the painting, after which he had to rely on reproductions to see if his results were approximating what Vermeer must have seen (so let me be clear here: Tim wasn’t trying to copy the reproductions, he was simply seeing what was there in his dual mirror system, then carefully copying that reflected image onto a canvas with oil paint in hopes that the end result would look like the Vermeer, which it certainly seems like it will given the many views we have onto Tim’s canvas and the reference image we have of reproductions of the original, which are constantly shown throughout the documentary).

After having spent years researching this topic, learning how to grind the optical lens set up in his studio to guide the reference image onto the mirror at the back of his work space, learning how to grind the pigments used to find the colors he needed to duplicate what he saw in the small mirror, and assembling the objects to be depicted (along with recruiting proper-sized-models for the later days when they’d be propped up against braces to keep them still when Tim added people to the still life on his canvas), Jenison started the actual painting process, slowly and carefully copying what he saw in his small mirror for 130 days until he was finally finished.  Based on what I saw in the documentary I’ll agree that what he got after applying the final varnish to the paint (to restore the original color of the pigment which has a tendency to get a shade or so darker as it dries) was something that looked remarkably like the reference reproduction of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, although with all of the images I’ve searched through on the Web I’ve yet to find one that I can actually verify as Tim’s “Vermeer” nor even a side-by-side-comparison of his finished product next to a reproduction of the original, which I find odd in that while Tim Jenison isn’t trying to portray himself as an artist he certainly wants to be taken seriously as an experimental scientist so I wish he and Teller would make the result more available for closer comparison (even without that evidence, Jonathan Jones in UK’s The has raised many objections to Jenison’s process and results, although the comments to Jones’ posting contain about as many dismissals of his position as he cites against Jenison so it’s clear that the art community and the viewers of both Vermeer and this film will have a lot to argue about long after it’s finished making the rounds of art-house-movie-theaters).  Rather than trying to come to any sort of unanswerable closure about what Vermeer did or didn’t do, I’ll just offer the following comments on what Tim and Teller have presented here, coming from my own training and practice as a painter, although certainly not one of the stature of Vermeer or Hockney:  (1) Tim doesn’t account for the quality of light as it’s impacted by atmospheric conditions one day to the next so that how he perceives color in today’s small segment of the canvas might not match up with what he saw nearby yesterday, yet no such mismatches seem to appear in his final product; (2) The small mirror can reflect what it’s lined up against in relation to the image in the large mirror, but how did Tim ever determine what would be the aspects of this reflected image that would match the edges of his canvas (presumably measured precisely to the dimensions of Vermeer’s original)?  For that matter, how does he precisely shift the position of the mirror today to follow up on what he saw yesterday?  I suppose he could constantly measure the placement of what he’s painting today to the exact location on the Vermeer reproduction but how did Vermeer keep it so exact when all he had was the ongoing original canvas?; and (3) If Tim couldn’t bring his canvas to the original after he was done, how does he know that what he’s captured is truly a duplicate of the original as opposed to a subconscious reproduction of the reproduction that he did have access to?  I just wish that these issues had been even briefly addressed because this doc runs only about 80 min. so it could have taken a little more time to better clarify the specifics of Tim's optics and mechanics.

For that matter, what differences would an atmospheric scientist expect to find in these 2 images, one produced in Northern Europe centuries before the Industrial Revolution and one produced in Central Texas decades after the atmosphere has been impacted by a vast array of particulate matter that could easily further impact the quality of light and the rendition of color that Tim was observing.  I completely agree with Tim’s premise that a camera lens—even a facsimile 17th century one—would render an optical image into the mirrors that would contain subtleties of light and hue that a painter could reproduce from those tiny tones of variance in small mirror images that the eye and brain would perceptually smooth out into a broader area of representation over a larger part of the canvas if observed from the studio’s full view of the subject matter, but how would you be able to keep lining up those tiny mirror segments if you didn’t have a fully-composed sketch or reproduction to guide the ongoing juxtaposition of one day’s meticulous work to the next?  And, if Tim has shown that Vermeer could likely have used optical devices to properly render textural details and variations of visible light on mostly inanimate objections, I’d be very curious to see how Tim (or Steadman or Hockney) would be able to use that same methodology to recreate something more focused on a variety of complex human subjects such as the also-seemingly-photographic presentation of Italian master Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (1601, the version of this subject in London’s National Gallery as shown in the above photo), the incident where the risen Christ revealed himself for the first time to some of his disciples.  Tim’s inspirational-authors certainly have implied that such devices were used considerably earlier than Vermeer’s day, but I’d love to see someone attempt to use Tim’s methodology to duplicate this Caravaggio masterpiece.  Anyway, Tim’s Vermeer is an interesting concept that produces a painted result that is remarkably similar to the original Dutch composition, which does give some credence to the arguments in favor of the Old Masters (or at least some of them) using scientific apparatuses to enhance their innate abilities with composition, lighting choices, determination of subject matter, impact of the work as a whole, etc., with no attempt to denigrate the aesthetic sensibilities of Vermeer or his likewise-famous predecessors/contemporaries.  However, no matter what you think about the use—or not—of these visual-aid-optical-devices, whether you care for Tim’s Vermeer as a cinematic experience may be determined by your own psychological factors:  Are you more of the artistic or scientific mindset that revels in process, thereby allowing you to follow along with Tim’s tedious procedures because you want to know in each step of the way how the result comes to pass? If so, this documentary will likely fascinate you, leaving you impressed with the final result of Tim’s “Vermeer.”  Or, are you more concerned with product, with knowing what comes of the hypothesis no matter what it took to get there?  If so, even the short running time of 80 min. may leave you antsy, wanting to know the outcome of Tim’s labors, not watching brushstroke after brushstroke as he laboriously tries to capture the intricate patterns of all of the objects within his field of view (as doled out to him about a square inch at a time in that small, demanding mirror).

For me, despite the reality that I was fascinated by the concept and wanted to know more about Tim’s understandings of the Steadman-Hockney suppositions, after a while I just didn’t care how difficult it was for him to render every fiber of that tablecloth, I just wanted to see what he came out with in the end, which could likely have been properly explained and shown in about half the time of the existing film.  If you can get into the meditative mindset that Tim must have forced himself to discover in order to get past his boredom and backaches, then you can probably fully embrace Tim’s Vermeer as is; if you prefer to just cut to the chase, then I’d have to say that the resources I’ve provided far below in this posting may be all you need to functionally appreciate the concept and demonstration of procedure that make up the bulk of this documentary feature as conceived and presented.  In a manner of speaking, it literally is watching paint dry so decide for yourself how much such an experience might speak to your cinematic interests.  However, for this film at least I don’t have to stretch my mind too far for a change to come up with a musical metaphor because the perfect one is right there under the closing credits with Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (written in 1971, first recorded by The Band on their 1971 Cahoots album, then included on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, 1971) which you can get a version of at with Dylan, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson from either December 31, 1971 or January 1, 1972—depending on what time of the night they performed—at the Academy of Music in NYC.  Of course, with Dylan singing live it’s always a crapshoot as to whether you can tell what he’s saying or not so you might also want to listen to just The Band at, performing at the 30th Anniversary celebration of Dylan on October 16, 1992 at Madison Square Garden (damn, do they get some top-notch-events there).

While in the name of all that’s holy in the tradition of journalistic brevity (whatever that is; as you might have figured out by now I never did learn that principle about public writing) I should have ended this posting long ago (although like Arlo Guthrie says in “Alice’s Restaurant”—from the 1967 album of the same name—“I’m not proud … or tired” [and if you want a real diversion at this point, take an 18:15 min. trip back to a famous Vietnam War-era-Thanksgiving dinner with Arlo’s original live recording at I’d like to keep going a bit longer by acknowledging another of those frequently-occurring 50-year-anniversaries which have been popping regularly in the last few years as old-Baby-Boomer-farts like me (and at least one of my loyal readers, who knows who she is) find ourselves celebrating/respectfully remembering such things as the semi-centennial-commemorations of the launching of the public careers of major musicians of our youth such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones, along with the dark side of such joy, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Cultural analysts of mid-20th-century America clearly agree that the event that helped pull us out of the doldrums of those gloomy days after the brief Camelot years came to an end was the first live appearance of The Beatles in the U.S. on the February 9, 1964 airing of The Ed Sullivan Show, which was just celebrated at the beginning of this week with a televised tribute exactly 50 years to the hour that the Fab Four graced Ed’s fabled stage in NYC.  While that has nothing to do with any film under review in this blog this week, I’ll offer a weak rationalization that the first Beatles’ movie, A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964) was, in addition to being an intended box-office-smash, a marvelous riff on the embrace that cinemas further west of France were offering at that time to the New Wave experiments of Truffaut, Godard, and their collaborators, followed by equal cinematic delights with the nonsensical-James-Bond-parody of Help (Lester, 1965) and the Peter Max-ish Pop Art of the animated Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968; notice that I keep my argument clean by relegating Magical Mystery Tour [Bernard Knowles, The Beatles; 1967] to the realm of TV movies so that I don’t have to defend it here). OK, now that my dubious-cinematic-rationalization for even bringing up The Beatles as part of this posting is in place, I’ll dismiss any explanations of musical metaphors in favor of just plain celebratory music of that magical time long ago, with a rendition, not from the Sullivan show (simply because this upcoming clip is the best single video of the song I can find) but from the same era, of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (the first Beatles single to hit #1 in the U.S., getting there about a week before the legendary appearance on Ed’s program) at (which seems to be lip-synched—long before Beyoncé was criticized [or at least questioned] for the same performance strategy at the 2013 Obama inauguration—as there are no microphones anywhere to be seen on this set), but if you have another extra 30 minutes to invest you can get most of those first 3 Beatles performances broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show from February 1964 at (in order) the following links: (2/9/64—"All My Loving," "Till There Was You," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" [I have all of this on a single DVD so I'll note that they also did "I Saw Her Standing There" that night]); (2/16/64—"She Loves You," "This Boy," "All My Loving," "I Saw Her Standing There," "From Me to You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand"); and (2/23/64—"Please Please Me" and "Twist and Shout" [there was also another rendition of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as their finale of the 3 shows, although all of these last performances weren't truly live on 2/23/64 but had been recorded on 2/9/64 prior to that first legendary broadcast]), with all of these musical links simply as live audio from that time over still images; as I was preparing this posting I had another link lined up that gave you actual footage of most of those performances, but I guess with the recent ratings success of the 50th Anniversary celebration on CBS the copyright and entertainment-lawyer moguls have swooped down and done away with that, although you may still be able to buy a copy of the 2-disc-DVD I own, called The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles (with the 9/22/65 program also, but be forewarned that all of these are the full original broadcasts [including commercials] along with everyone else who was performing on those nights so you're treated to such marvels as the Broadway cast of Oliver, Mitzi Gaynor, Gordon and Shelia MacRae, Soupy Sales, and Fantasio the Magician).

But if we’re going to indulge in the beginning of The Beatles’ U.S. live performance career we might as well cap it off at the end back in England at com/watch?v=Rpr-VURD6fo with their 22 min. January 30, 1969 rooftop performance (their last live “concert”) from the rooftop of their Apple Studios with “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “The One After 909,” “Dig a Pony,” and a reprise of “Get Back,” as seen in their last movie, the Let It Be documentary (Michael Lindsey-Hogg, 1970), before the police shut them down for disturbing the delicate sensibilities of the local business community:  “Have you seen the bigger piggies In their starched white shirts? You will find the bigger piggies Stirring up the dirt Always have clean shirts to play around in” (from “Piggies” on the 1968 The Beatles album [“The White Album”]).  Well, I guess I’ve wandered about as far as I can from the intended purposes of the reviews this week, but Nina and I had a marvelous short visit to the Sonoma wine country just north of San Francisco a few days ago where we connected a bit with the ghost of Jack London at the ruins of his fabulous-but-destroyed-by-fire-before-it-was-ever-occupied Wolf House and I’m still feeling the ebullient residue of both that trip and our shared memories of how the Liverpool Lads opened our eyes, ears, and hearts to what evolved into a true cultural revolution in that long-ago-decade that continues to reverberate today, either as a fabulous memory for many of us or a series of misdirections that have yet to be corrected for others who see the last half-century far differently than we do (although, in the spirit of attempted reconciliation, I’ll note that even my conservative parents [rest their souls] came to enjoy the music of The Beatles—as long as they didn’t have to look at them, or me in my most hairy manifestations, such as my current one that’s approaching lion-headed-John Lennon-style [rest his soul as well], circa 1969, when he had a beard and hair at least as long as what you see in the rooftop footage, with the wind blowing that mane completely over his face in the photo above, as I’ve had to learn to deal with myself in the last couple of years).  I’ll see if I can get completely back on a cinematic track by next week, but one never completely knows what will happen when one “gets back,” now does one?

If you’d like to know more about The Monuments Men here are some suggested links: (8:26 mini-documentary produced by the American Jewish Historical Society about the work of the actual Monuments Men; or if you really want a lot of background here’s a full-blown-academic 1:15:00 lecture by history professor Jack Needle of Lincroft, New Jersey’s Brookdale Community College at /watch?v=rgcX01kgrmg, not the most enthralling presentation you could imagine but very usefully-fact-filled [watch this for the information because it’s sadly unsupported by imagery except for a static shot of the prof talking ... and talking ... and talking, but that's what we academics do)

If you’d like to know more about Tim’s Vermeer here are some suggested links: (32:30 interview with director Teller [of the famous magic act Penn and Teller] talking for a change—quite eloquently and in detail—about the making of the film and Tim Jenison’s technique in painting his own version of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson; hopefully, you’ll be satisfied with all this verbal commentary because there are no cutaways to any visuals from the film so here’s a bit of that at and, for balance, here’s a long documentary [57:33] on Vermeer at, produced by the National Gallery of Art, narrated by Meryl Streep, where the existence of the camera obscura during Vermeer’s time is acknowledged but with no indication that he used any version of it to produce his paintings)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.

Please note that to Post a Comment you need to either have a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. The Monuments Men shines a light on a little known story, however I found the execution and production of the film was uneven and lacked depth and perspective. No doubt my expectations were too high given the massive advertising, an all star cast, European 1940's locations and a promising premise. It may have been better with fewer name stars, better direction, more situational awareness and improved character development. Even the cinematography was often dark and grainy; perhaps not enough lighting, production time, or resources to create the period.

    The History Channel should get the film, add more frame of reference and situational respect as the story is certainly missing from most of our history texts.

  2. Hi rj, It's already clear that I must reluctantly agree with you about the final shape of The Monuments Men, which I respect but just don't think works as well as a film about this topic should. Thanks for your constructive comments. Ken

  3. I found Tim's Vermeer to be quite engaging, but I too wondered about the lighting issue as even I, (a total layman in regard to painting), know the dramatic changes the seasons and weather produces. However it seems Tim did have some sort of filter cloth over the windows and also started with guide lines on the canvas. I suppose the most unbelievable parts of the story for me was the duration of the effort (2008-2012? followed by cameras and financing) and the assertion that Tim was not a trained oil painter in the beginning. He looked pretty proficient in this documentary. Overall I liked it and would recommend it highly. I think the validity of the process, like any other scientific research, will ultimately rest on other's ability to duplicate the technique.

  4. Hi rj, Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you on this but being out of town for even a few days can really take a toll on the usual activities. Glad you found Tim's Vermeer to be so intriguing; you're right that, as with any scientific experiment, this one only has relevance if others can also do it, but it may be awhile for someone with both the interest and the resources comes along willing to put that much time and effort into procedural curiosity. Ken

  5. If I was bored, I just look on the internet on any kind of films and videos that are entertaining.
    Amazing Short Films