ICYMI, here is a shot of the blood red eclipse of the Moon on April 14/15, 2014.
There is some confusion as to when you should start watching the total lunar eclipse – known as a blood red moon – that is listed as occurring on April 15, 2014. Actually, in most places where it will be visible, you should start watching on April 14 – that’s Monday evening!
The confusion around the timing is because the official times listed for the eclipse are based on Eastern Daylight Time – even though the best viewing of the eclipse will be west of that time zone. So – officially – the eclipse’s start time is just before 1 a.m. EDT on April 15. Got that, New Yorkers? (Actually, NYC and the Eastern time zone as a whole is not the greatest spot to be trying to watch the eclipse; it is right on the eastern edge of the viewing area.)
But if you are watching in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Honolulu, etc, the eclipse starts before midnight on what is still Monday evening, April 14. To be clear: For L.A., and other points in the Pacific time zone, the eclipse will begin and reach totality just at the stroke of midnight on Monday night, and then continue into the wee hours of Tuesday morning!
Those “official” times exactly:
Onset: 12:53 a.m. EDT, April 15. (9:53 p.m. PDT, April 14)
Actual Eclipse Begins: 1:58 a.m. EDT, April 15. (10:58 p.m. PDT, April 14)
Totality Begins: 3:06 a.m. EDT, April 15. (12:06 a.m. PDT, April 15)
Darkest Point: 3:46 a.m. EDT, April 15. (12:46 a.m. PDT, April 15)
Totality Ends: 4:24 a.m. EDT, April 15. (1:24 a.m. PDT, April 15)
Party Ends: 5:33 a.m. EDT, April 15. (2:33 a.m. PDT, April 15)
You won’t see much for the first hour, but then into the second and third hours, the moon will darken gradually until it becomes a totally reddish disk. Then the process starts to wane, and about two to three hours later, it will be over.
The eclipse will be visible in much of the Western Hemisphere, including North America, Central America, the western half of South America and the islands of the Pacific Ocean*.
Why does the moon appear red? It has to do with the bending of light rays in the atmosphere. Eclipses occur when the Earth moves exactly between the Moon and the Sun; the Earth’s shadow covers the Moon. Most light is blocked, but some red bounces past, and seems to project itself, like a sunrise or sunset, coloring the Moon.
“The exact color that the moon appears depends on the amount of dust and clouds in the atmosphere,” according to NASA scientists. “If there are extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, the moon will appear a darker shade of red.”
If you miss this eclipse, don’t despair; another one is coming October 8, and that one will be visible in much of the same area – although the prime viewing area will shift a bit to the west, so that it includes some of Asia.
Of special note with this April 14/15 eclipse: Thus begins a series of four consecutive blood-red moons, called a tetrad – each separated by a period of six months which is, according to legend, a sign of the coming of the Apocalypse. Check back here in two years, and we’ll see how that turned out.
April 9, 2014
(*The eclipse will also be visible in Australia and New Zealand).
A production assistant, assigned to work on the end-of-movie credit roll, was making the rounds on the set of the movie “Rush“, as the crew filmed at the Nurburgring race track in Germany, in fall 2012.
“Excuse me,” she said to a man in a racing suit that said “Jochen Mass” on it. “What is your name?’
“Jochen Mass,” he answered.
“No, I know that’s who you play in the movie,” she said. “But what is your name?”
“Jochen Mass,” he said again.
The PA looked flustered, “No your real name. What is your real name?”
The PA went off in search of someone who spoke German, because she was sure the man was not understanding her question.
“She couldn’t believe it,” the man – the real Jochen Mass – explained recently at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida, where he was honored as grand marshal.
Yes, that really was Jochen Mass, driving the #12 Marlboro McLaren in the movie. That really was Mass passing stuntmen portraying Niki Lauda and James Hunt (Mass’ teammate) in a key scene at the 1976 German Grand Prix. It was perhaps the fictional but realistic racing movie’s one moment most anchored in reality.
That sequence was filmed at the same track where it happened, the Nurburgring, by the way, (Hunt won, Mass finished third, Lauda nearly died in a fiery crash).
“Ron Howard, the producer, asked me for technical assistance on the movie,” Mass explained. “And that’s what led to me driving the replica of my car in the film.”
Mass, now 67, enjoyed a decade in Formula 1 racing, from 1973 to 1982, won the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix – his only F1 triumph, and the 1989 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although he retired from competitive driving long ago, he still races the occasional vintage car event. He’s fit, and managed to emerge pretty much unscathed from his career.
Mass was the only person to play himself in the movie, although Mario Andretti said he would have been interested in participating, if asked.
“I never heard from Ron Howard,” Andretti said. “I would have done it.”
Mass said it was a memorable moment, to be able to re-create history, and to turn back time – even for just a few frames of a movie.
March 29, 2014
This was, despite appearances, no racing movie.
The 2013 movie, “Rush“, depicted events of the 1976 Formula 1 Grand Prix season. But it wasn’t the first movie to deal with that subject. Before “Rush,” there was the much misunderstood and almost forgotten “Bobby Deerfield.”
The weekend of the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., in October 1977, someone invited us to attend a special world premiere of a new movie. It was in an odd venue: A small old theater in a nearby town. We sat down in old red velvet-covered metal chairs, our feet stuck to the gooey floor, and watched with great anticipation as the movie, “Bobby Deerfield” flickered up on the screen.
We hadn’t heard much about the movie, except that it was supposed to be a racing movie, made in cooperation with Formula 1 and the Brabham team then run by Bernie Eccelstone. It featured the cars and drivers of the 1976 Formula 1 season – yes, the real life James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, Jochen Mass, Jean Pierre Jarier, Tom Pryce, Carlos Pace and others were all in it, in their actual F1 cars. Wow! Was this going to be the first decent racing movie since the iconic “Grand Prix” in 1966? There was much anticipation.
About two hours and two minutes later, we all – and there must have been several dozen of us – left the theater thoroughly disappointed.
“Racing movie?” a friend said contemptuously. “The worst love story since ‘Love Story‘. Get out your hankies. What crap!”
“Absolute crap! And it went on and on. For-ev-errr. Jesus!” said another. “Who do I talk to, to get that two hours of my life back?”
You wondered how a movie with that much talent attached to it could disappoint so badly. It starred Al Pacino, who had just been nominated for four straight Best Actor Academy Awards (“The Godfather” I & II, “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon”). It was directed by two-time Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (“Out Of Africa”), scripted by another two-time Oscar winner Alvin Sargent (“Julia” and “Ordinary People”), and adapted from a novel by Erich Maria Remarque (“Heaven Has No Favorites” – for which Paul Newman originally owned the movie rights), who also wrote the immortal anti-war novel, “All Quiet On The Western Front“.
The movie flopped at the box office. It grossed barely $9 million. Although Pacino received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, it was shut out of all other consideration. The little-known female lead Marthe Keller, who became romantically involved with Pacino during filming, was trashed so badly it probably hurt her career.
“Critics panned Bobby Deerfield as an over-the-top melodrama with a plodding story line,” notes a film guide. “Audiences reportedly laughed at scenes intended to be dramatic.” New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby panned it as “the year’s most cynical movie, made by people who know better.” Cynical? How? (Roger Ebert loved it, btw.) Racing fans were especially bitter – feeling that the movie was such a bomb, it poisoned Hollywood on attempting other racing flicks for years.
Time has not been especially kind to Bobby Deerfield, either. Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 22. Cheeky Time Out magazine dissed Pollack (who died in 2008) as being a “classic example of a Hollywood director being struck down by a lethal ‘art’ attack as soon as he sets foot in Europe” to make a film.
One reviewer said the movie’s most redeeming feature was “the French countryside is captured beautifully.”
Idiots! What are you talking about?!?
That wasn’t the French countryside! That wasn’t a racing movie. That wasn’t a bomb. It was an under-appreciated classic.
First off, most of the movie was filmed in Switzerland and Italy. I can almost name the places, because I’ve driven all around there. In the film, Pacino (who had no driver’s license, and didn’t know how to drive, prior to the start of filming) motors around in a gold 1976 Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce – a time machine in and of itself.
Much of the film is shot in the Swiss spa town of Leukerbad, and Florence, Italy. There are a series of absolutely wonderful drives filmed in loving detail, down through the Valais, onto the auto train that goes through the Simplon Tunnel, across Lake Como on the ferry to Bellagio, and down into Tuscany and Florence. (Note to self: One day, write a Bobby Deerfield Travel Guide.) The scenery is just unforgettable – and it is charming to see that so little has changed along the route in the intervening 37 years. A heartrendingly gorgeous travelogue for anyone, especially those who have been there.
There are really only two racing sequences of any consequence – and they are each expertly shot – in the movie, and when I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t place exactly where they were. The script mentions one of them as “Jarama” (with a hard “J”) in Spain. But, in re-watching the movie recently, I realized it was actually le Circuit de la Sarthe – the 24 Hours of Le Mans race track (where, ironically, there is no Formula 1 racing) in France. I went to Le Mans in 1976, and saw all those same pit boxes, paddock lots and grandstands you see in the movie; sadly, they’ve have all long since been bulldozed into oblivion.
One particular line in Sargent’s generally very fine script, I think, is the key to understanding what the movie is really all about. Keller’s character Lillian sums up Bobby as being “so busy avoiding death, you aren’t living life.” (Or something like that.)
In Remarque’s book, everybody (spoiler alert) either dies or is doomed to die. The movie is actually more about making the most of life than it is about the capriciousness of death. (On that subject, the film is dedicated to racers Pryce and Pace, who doubled for Pacino in racing scenes; each died in 1977 before the movie was released.) Deerfield is also obsessed dissecting anything he doesn’t understand, whether it be racing, magic tricks or the enigmatic Lillian.
I won’t tell you the plot, except to tip you that Lillian is ill (no, idiot reviewers, it is not tuberculosis; your hair doesn’t fall out with that). I encourage you to watch it yourself. Or re-watch it, and give it another chance, if you were among the original disillusioned throngs.
In my latest viewing of it, I thought Pacino’s acting was exceptional, especially in the second half (personally, he rates it as among his favorite performances). And Keller’s acting was actually quite affecting. Their chemistry is undeniable. It you take the time to watch it when you are in a certain mood, perhaps on a gray, quiet afternoon, when you are willing to give in to it and let the movie transport you at something less than Grand Prix speeds, it can be quite moving.
Bobby Deerfield should get credit for getting one thing absolutely right about racing: It was a bloodbath, back then. Enough to give even an emotionally stunted Deerfield pause.
Bobby Deerfield was, however, no racing movie. And the marketing genius who tried to sell it as such was a real jackass.
March 27, 2014
Posted in Auto Racing, Automobile Travel, Cars, Cinema, Formula 1, France Tourism, Italian Tourism, Italy, Lake Como, Lombardy Tourism, Movie Locations, Movie Trivia, Movies, Oscar, Out of Africa, Swiss Rail, Swiss Tourism, Trains, Tuscany tourism | Tags: Al Pacino, Alfa Romeo, Alvin Sargent, Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Deerfield, Brabham, Carlos Pace, Erich Maria Remarque, Formula 1, Grand Prix, Grand Prix racing, James Hunt, Jean Pierre Jarier, Jochen Mass, Love Story, Mario Andretti, Marthe Keller, Niki Lauda, Rush - The Movie, Sydney Pollack, Tom Pryce
Where is the Grand Budapest Hotel?
But where did they film it?
Answer: Mostly inside a real-life building that was once a department store in Görlitz, Saxony, Germany.
Görlitz is reputed to be the easternmost town in Germany, on the border with Poland. For the record, it’s 683 kilometers – and several countries – away from Budapest.
“We needed a spa town, and Görlitz is a spa town,” said Anderson, noting that he considered, but ruled out the real Budapest, in favor of Görlitz. “It even has thermal baths.”
Anderson said the building he used for the movie’s interiors was pretty much vacant, after the department store had gone bankrupt. The economy in Görlitz isn’t great, although it has been enjoying its new-found fame as a movie location and tourism stop for movie fans.
The building’s exterior shots are actually of the Görlitz city hall, embellished with so many computer-generated fetishes that it almost didn’t matter what building they used. (A tip that the exteriors were shot using a different building than the one used for the interiors? The roof of the interior building is glass. Look at the roof of the building in the movie poster above: It is black slate, with 18 gables, topped with wrought iron bric-a-brac to keep the pigeons off.)
The city hall building’s center section exists, with its gingerbread house style roof crown. But the rest of the rococo facade is added, like frosting on a cake.
For instance, the matching end sections with the parapets on the corners of the building aren’t really there. A computer added them.
The front entrance of the hotel was a plywood box built by the prop department and grafted onto the real building.
There are no alpine-style mountains anywhere near Görlitz (or Budapest). No craggy rocks with stags perched upon them, and no bridal veil-style waterfalls. But the tableau that Anderson creates is such an indelible fantasy that makes you want to believe it is real. And maybe there is something eerily similar, to be found someplace – on some old linen postcard, or an art nouveau or art deco luggage sticker, with saturated pastel coloring – declaring: “Greetings From The Grand Budapest Hotel”.
Fact is, there are buildings, and hotels, and snow-capped Alps and all those things, to be found in almost every resort town, all over Europe. (For instance, doesn’t every alpine getaway have a “Hotel Belvedere”?) It’s that all those features Anderson that conjured up don’t all exist in one, particular, spectacular grand dame of a hotel. And many of the great old hotels that could evoke a comparison to the Grand Budapest are falling into disrepair, closing, and being torn down.
Pity. And I guess that is the point the movie tries to make.
March 6, 2014
Was that a Hispano Suiza shuttling VIPs around the 2014 Geneva Motor Show? Well, it had what appeared to be a Hispano-Suiza hood ornament, and a prow-like Hispano-Suiza radiator shell and grille from the pre-World War I era. Anywhere else in the world, it would most likely be identified as a Hispano-Suiza. But in Geneva, it wears the name of another auto company. What was it?
The mystery car bears the badge of “Pic-Pic”, an obscure model from automobiling’s turbulent early years. The city of Geneva claims Pic-Pic as its one and only hometown auto maker.
The company, or companies behind Pic-Pic were in business from 1906-1924. But few cars badged as “Pic-Pic” are known to survive.
Brothers Charles and Frederic Dufaux, aspiring race car drivers, came up with the idea of producing an automobile, around the turn of the 20th century. They drew up designs but didn’t have the expertise or equipment to build anything. So they farmed out the construction to an industrial equipment manufacturer, Piccard-Pictet & Cie. Hence the origin of the “Pic-Pic” nickname.
Paul Piccard hated the whole idea of the automobile and bowed out of the project, but his partner Lucien Pictet was gung-ho. In 1905, Pictet started a marketing company, Societe d’Automobiles Geneve (S.A.G.), the name under which he intended to market the cars turned out by the Piccard-Pictet works.
He planned to build from the Dufaux brothers’ designs. But he was acquainted with the Swiss engineer Mark Birkigt who had gone to Spain to work with Emilio de la Cuadra on what became the Hispano-Suiza. Pictet liked what Hispano-Suiza was doing. So much so, Pictet went to Barcelona and met with Birkigt and worked out a deal to sell Hispano-Suizas under license in Switzerland.
So Pictet showed a Hispano-Suiza, wearing an S.A.G. badge, at the 2nd annual Geneva Motor Show in 1906. The cars wore S.A.G. badges until 1910.
S.A.G. started having Piccard-Pictet produce some of its own engines of various sizes, in four, six and eight-cylinder configurations.
It’s not exactly clear exactly when the Pic-Pic badge started showing up on S.A.G.’s Hispano-Suizas, but the oldest surviving one wearing a Pic-Pic badge and designated as a “MIV” (for Model 4) is a 1914 model; that car is being displayed in the Palexpo convention center’s lobby at this year’s Geneva show, with signage touting its “100th anniversary”.
The annals of racing show that cars entered as Pic-Pics won a few grands prix in the years leading up to the start of World War I in 1914. Many Pic-Pics were ordered by the Swiss Army during the war, because they were known for their workhorse engines. But after the war, Piccard-Pictet went bust. So in 1920, Gnome et Rhone, a French aircraft engine manufacturer, took over constructing what was left of the company’s stocks of spare parts – which was mostly Hispano-Suiza stuff. The last car to wear a Pic-Pic badge was a 1924 model shown at the Geneva show that year.
And that car – or one just like it – survives, and is reputed to be the one puttering around at the Geneva show this year. Identifying it was sort of a chore, since it was actually a parts-bin mongrel, comprised of many Hispano-Suiza parts from the pre- and post-WWI models. And so ended the Pic-Pic saga.
Probably not what the long-forgotten Dufaux brothers originally had in mind at all.
March 5 , 2014
When Audi acquired Ducati for about $1 billion in 2012, many automotive industry observers wondered, “WTF?” Was it just a trophy acquisition for Volkswagen Group honcho and motorcycle enthusiast Ferdinand Piech, who had passed up the chance to pick up the iconic Italian motorcycle manufacturer on the cheap back in the 1980s? Or would VW Group try to resuscitate the perennially cash-poor company, like it had with Lamborghini, Bentley or Bugatti?
Looks like, under Audi’s aegis, Ducati is getting ready to kick it up a notch. A sneak preview of that was provided here March 3 when a newly redesigned Ducati Diavel motorcycle was introduced along with Audi’s new automotive models at the swank Geneva Motor Show.
The original Diavel had only just come out when Audi bought the company, so a statement is being made, by investing heavily in a revision of a very successful motorcycle, after little more than three years on the market. By comparison, Yamaha waited 23 years to re-do its V-Max – a motorcycle that is considered a pioneer of the muscle cruiser genre.
How does the new Diavel differ from the old one? Well, here is how Cycle World once memorably described the original Diavel:
“The Diavel is a hot-chili-oil gel-cap suppository up the rectum of all that is sedentary and conventional, and as more than one of us has observed, it’s going to get somebody arrested.”
Okay. That’s a lot to live up to! The original Diavel offered 162 horsepower in a package that weighed little more than 400 pounds. It ranked among the fastest production motorcycles ever built, with a 0-60 time of 2.6 seconds. But the experience of riding it that hard was more terrifying than satisfying. It was a raw, rough-edged ride; power came on like a sledgehammer between the eyes. Top speed is an unlisted number you are never likely to call.
Ducati’s mission was make the new version every bit as quick – and maybe even a tick or two quicker – but “smoother and more enjoyable” to hammer. Think “ride-ability”.
The 90-degree, four-valve, liquid-cooled, 90-degree, 1198cc V-twin engine has been completely re-worked, Ducati says. Peak horsepower from is now reached at 9,250 rpm, instead of 9,500; torque has been maximized from 94 pounds-feet to 96.2. Part of the power-burst comes from new pistons with a 12.5:1 compression ratio – up from 11.5:1 – and a “radical” adjustment in cam timing.
But one of the biggest performance enhancements is in how the bike breathes, through revised intake and exhaust ports, and an improved air box and freer-flowing exhausts.
Three adjustable throttle settings allow full power for sport riding, maximum power with an added degree of that “ride-ability” for rider and passenger for touring, and a moderated 100-horsepower mode for urban use and for riding in wet conditions.
Despite the huge 240 section rear tire, Ducati promises that along with engine improvements to make the Diavel accelerate faster and with greater smoothness, and stop quicker with improved brakes, it will also handle with more agility.
Visually, the new Diavel still looks like a plumber’s garage sale, with exposed pipes, tubing and ductwork twisted, threaded and woven around every inch of it. But there is more integration and sophistication evident; it even appears to be a bit more comfortable and ergonomically friendly to ride. And no sign of that odd license plate holder that used to hover over the rear tire.
And while we await an actual test ride to benchmark Audi/Ducati performance claims for the new Diavel, I’m happy to report that even in mostly black Dark Stealth livery, it still looks red hot.
March 3, 2014
LA CAÑADA, California
One of the most affecting moments in the movie, “The Monuments Men,” happens when one of the characters, Bill Murray’s Richard Campbell, receives a recording from home, with his granddaughter singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”
Who is really singing?
An absolute unknown, Nora Sagal – at least at the time she recorded the former Judy Garland standard.
Who is she?
Nora, I’m proud to say, is from my hometown – La Cañada, California! She was only 16 at the time she recorded the song, and she is the daughter of Warner Brothers executive David Sagal.
Actor/director/screenwriter George Clooney told a fanzine site how Ms. Sagal was selected: “We wrote this Christmas scene knowing that we were gonna be using that piece of music. A good friend of mine, his 16 year-old daughter is just an insanely talented singer. I had her record that at her school and we just used it. It was spectacular.”
Check out the fanzine’s page on this, plus a bonus clip of Ms. Sagal singing, “Fever.”
Not to take anything at all away from Ms. Sagal, but “Merry Little Christmas” has been used as a tear-jerker in a war movie before, with arguably even greater effect. Frank Sinatra’s gut-wrenching version in” The Victors” (1963), is played out against an execution inspired by the death by firing squad of Eddie Slovik – not to be confused with the nearly-as-powerful “The Execution of Private Slovik” (1974) which Sinatra once owned the film rights to. Slovik was the only U.S. soldier executed for desertion in World War II- or actually since the Civil War. The Victors was so disturbing, more than 40 years later, it’s hard to find a version of it on VHS, CD or DVD.
February 9, 2014
In the movie, “The Monuments Men“, a motley collection of (mostly) American artists, sculptors, choreographers and architects foil evil Nazis bent on looting and destroying Europe’s precious art treasures. They find secret caches and troves of looted art as they chase the retreating Germans in the closing stages of World War II.
Some of that is true, but the whole truth is much more complicated – not to mention more fascinating and separate tale worth telling.
A lot of what the Monuments Men found was not just French, or Belgian or Italian art treasures, but also priceless Bavarian and Prussian artifacts, stored by concerned Germans themselves; dedicated men and women who hoped to protect them from conquering hordes like the Russians, Americans and British bearing down on them – and even from the Nazi hierarchy bent on stealing them.
In a 1978 interview, near the end of his life, George Leslie Stout (the inspiration for George Clooney’s character Frank Stokes in the movie) described in detail what was found, at what location, and by whom.
At Merkers-Kieselbach, for instance, the Monuments Men found what the Germans had hastily stashed of their own treasures – from museums around the Third Reich, Berlin in particular, to safeguard them against destruction from Allied bombings.
“I think early April of 1945, and there had been a last minute evacuation of works of art from Berlin,” Stout said. Curators of German museums had been among those organizing the evacuation. “Besides the works of art from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the museums in Berlin, the Kaiser Friedrich Museum [now Bode Museum] and the other museums – the Ancient Museums. There were also scores and costumes from the Berlin Opera and there were deposits from the Bank of Germany, and a wide variety of foreign currency notes and notes on the Reichsbank.”
After the war, the impoverished residents of the area grabbed the opera costumes and wore them daily – since their own clothes were in tatters.
Stout, who also confirmed the grim discovery of barrels full of gold filings from concentration camp victims, said it took 40 ten-ton trucks to move the Merkers finds to nearby Frankfurt for safe-keeping (Allied soldiers were often found to be just as likely to loot anything of value as any enemy soldier or sympathizer). Also found at Merkers was 250 tons of gold bullion – which stole any headlines the artistic discoveries might have otherwise received.
Another important Monuments Men find – not mentioned at all in the movie – “was at a place called Bernterode, which is not very far from Weimar,” Stout recalled, “and that was a repository containing what were the old Prussian treasures from Potsdam.”
He explained, “It was a miscellaneous collection and included tapestries, a large number of books, with relatively fine bindings, volumes, editions, a group of maybe a hundred or more paintings, the old standards of the old Prussian regiments with all their medals stuck on the staff.”
But perhaps the most astonishing discovery was that of four embalmed bodies: Paul Von Hindenburg, the former field marshal and President of Germany (and Hitler hater), who had died in 1934; his wife Gertrud, who had passed away in 1921; and the remains of King Friedrich Wilhelm I – dead since 1740, and his son King Friedrich the Great (officially, Friedrich II) of Prussia, who had died in 1786. The bodies were in huge ceremonial caskets, with orbs, scepters and crowns. It took Herculean efforts to winch the lead-lined caskets out of the deep salt mine caves.
The third big find, Stout recalled, was in Alt Aussee, Austria, which was pretty much as depicted in the movie, although Austrian art treasures comprised a significant part of the find..
“There were some pretty prime things there, the Ghent Altarpiece, for example , the fine Michelangelo [Madonna] from Bruges,” he said. “I won’t try to run down the list.” He couldn’t resist adding, “and that great Vermeer from Vienna from the Czernin Collection. That’s a little sample.”
Besides those treasures, the labyrinthine mine was full of fine antique furniture, sculptures and even draperies – about 10,000 items in all.
The mine had been rigged by Germans to be blown up, but under what circumstances, there is some debate. “Hitler’s orders were somewhat confusing,” Stout said. “One order was, ‘This must never fall into the hands of the enemy,’ and there were others that weren’t quite clear.” What was clear, however, was that the Austrians sabotaged the demolition plans – but not because they were art lovers, concerned about the loot stashed in the mine. The Austrians were concerned about damaging the mine, which for seven or more centuries had largely funded the town’s way of life.
To the Austrians, Stout said, the demolition plan amounted to nothing less than “the destruction of their entire life, their whole manner of living, and they were not going to put up with it.”
The villagers pulled off their acts of sabotage right under the noses of many members of the Nazi high command, including Adolf Eichmann, who were holed up there – it was one of the last redoubts of the so-called “Alpine fortress” – through the end of the war.
Stout was generous in praising the many unlikely heroes who, wittingly or unwittingly, helped the Monuments Men in their quests to find, preserve and repatriate the spoils of war – insofar as art was concerned. But he wanted to emphasize one point – often lost in discussions of this subject:
“I would just like to make clear that this whole activity was not an undertaking on the part of the United States to save works of art,” he said. “It was an undertaking under the Hague Convention and under the Rules of Ground Warfare, which require that all educational properties in combat areas or other areas of occupation must be regarded as private property, exempt from exploitation, seizure, and so on.”
He added, “That’s why it was done. It was done as a routine necessity by the United States Army and it had been done prior to our arrival in the European theater.”
Stout also applauded thanked an unlikely ally in the struggle to preserve and protect art: The enemy!
“It had been done very faithfully and with great correctness by the Monuments Service of the German army,” he noted. “They were very, very conscientious. Of course, they had nothing to do with what the men far above them were able to steal. But as to protecting monuments and works of art in the combat area of the German army, they had done a very, very good job.”
That might story make an interesting movie in and of itself.
February 8, 2014
Posted in Hollywood, Mad Ludgwig's Castle, Mad Ludwig, Movie Locations, Movie Trivia, Movies | Tags: Adolf Hitler, Alt Aussee, Altes Museum, Bavaria, Bernterode, Bode Museum, Czernin Collection, Frank Stokes, Friedrich The Great, Friedrich Wilhelm I, George Clooney, George Leslie Stout, Ghent Altarpiece, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunsthistorisches_Museum, Johannes Vermeer, looted art, Madonna of Bruges, Merkers, Monuments Men, Movie Trivia, Nazi Gold, Nazis, Nefertiti Bust, Paul Von Hindenburg, Prussia, The Art of Painting, The Monuments Men movie
Authorities in Rome have busted five Chinese-run businesses there, and accused them of manufacturing and selling fake cashmere goods – some made instead of rat fur!
Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported today that more than a million garments were seized and 14 Chinese-born individuals were arrested.
A year-long investigation of the business practices of Chinese-run companies in Rome found that acrylic, viscose and “fur from rats and other animals” was used in the manufacture of cashmere coats. Also found to be made with materials other than what was claimed: “Merino wool” sweaters and other items, “silk” garments and “pashmina” scarves.
The Italian authorities said the garments were distributed in Rome, Livorno, Florence and other Italian cities. And although the Chinese were found guilty of making the clothes and distributing them, the Italian cops said they weren’t able to identify who was selling them at retail. Really?
My advice to the Guardia di Finanza: Check your flea markets.
February 7, 2014
It’s a 1977/78 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz – one of the last of the Detroit dinosaurs. After the 1978 model year, motorized mammoths of that size were gone – downsized out of existence – victims of rising fuel prices, tightening emissions controls and tougher safety standards. End of an era.
As a symbol of 1970s excess, however, the filmmakers could not have selected a finer example than the top-of-the-line Biarritz.
These were truly terrible cars, from a performance standpoint. At nearly 5,000 pounds, the Eldo could hardly get out of its own way; if you could get it going faster than 80 m.p.h. (rare), the fans belts would likely vibrate off. They got single-digit fuel mileage and had atrocious reliability records.
Subjective judgments aside, here are some essential facts about the 1977/78 Eldorado (the two years were virtually indistinguishable):
The base price of the 1978 Cadillac Eldorado was $11,920. The “posh” Biarritz package added $1,865-$3,347, depending on what kind of roof it had on it – hardtop, sunroof or retractable t-top “AstroRoof”. Actually only one AstroRoof model was made (probably just for the auto show it was shown at), so that might be a real collector’s item, if it still exists; American Sunroof Corp. was supposed to make them, but couldn’t ever get them not to leak. I ordered one, Cadillac took my deposit, but it never came. I eventually got a letter of apology (but no refund) from the head of Cadillac division.
What’s such a car worth today? According to Hagerty Insurance’s Valuation Tools, depending on condition, they are worth $6,500 for beater-class models to $24,500 for a concours-quality example. But a check of websites such as Hemmings, AutoTrader and Edmunds turns up creampuffs for under $6,000. And I saw a basket case example in a Daytona Beach used car lot for $2,500.
Though more than 80,000 were produced in ’77-’78, only a fraction remain on the road; rust was its arch-enemy, and many were crushed, dismantled or sunk for artificial reefs.
The 1971-1978 Cadillac Eldorado was basically the same car – with declining performance engineered in. The ’71s started out with enormous 500-cubic-inch engines that made a tolerable 365-horsepower. But with emissions controls that came in the next year, horsepower dropped precipitously – 235 to 210 to 190. For ’77-’78, the 500 c.i.d. engine was replaced by a 425 c.i.d. version that made a puny 180 horsepower. A 195-horsepower version was an option, and – new for 1978! – there was also a disastrous 5.7-liter V-8 diesel that was good for only 120 horsepower – it was quite possibly the worst engine ever to come out of Detroit. Hopefully, Irving did not check that box on his order form.
Irving’s Eldo appears to be Medium Blue Firemist on the outside, with matching hubcaps, and a color-coordinated padded vinyl roof (one of the cheesiest options ever) with Landau windows and opera lights.
The interior seemed to be a matching blue; tuffed “pillow-top” velour or “Sierra” leather seats were available. Faux wood grain and chromed plastic trimmed the dash.
If you are in the market for a car like this, beware of “low mileage” models. Low mileage, for these types of cars may mean the thing was a lemon from the get-go, and never functioned reliably enough to rack up any great number of miles. Of course, conversely, few of them survived long enough to ring up six figures on the odometer. Sort of an automotive Catch-22.
Just the kind of scam-mobile Irving Rosenfeld might have appreciated. Too bad his wife crashed his. (“Not. My. Fault.”)
February 5, 2014
Although the cast was populated with a few real-life characters – historical figures such as Nazi leader Hermann Goering, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and Adolf Hitler – Clooney and his movie-land Monuments Men were all make-believe.
But the character Clooney did play, Frank Stokes, was largely based on a real person, George Leslie Stout. It seems Clooney was well chosen for the part, because the real-life George Stout was a Hollywood handsome, charismatic, swashbuckling hero. (BTW, Ancestry.com reported this week it discovered Clooney and Stout are second c0usins, thrice removed; Clooney said he had been unaware of that.)
Stout deserves to be attached to this role, and remembered for his monumental contribution to the discovery, retrieval and preservation of tens of the thousands of objects of art.
Who were the real Monuments Men?
According to a website that exists to remember them, “The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for [military] service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, or MFAA. Most had expertise as museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects, and archivists. Their job description was simple: to save as much of the culture of Europe as they could during combat. These men not only had the vision to understand the grave threat to the greatest cultural and artistic achievements of civilization, but then joined the front lines to do something about it.”
Stout came by his appreciation of art and beauty from birth. He was born in 1897 in picturesque Winterset, Madison County, Iowa – whose famous covered bridges inspired the book and movie “The Bridges of Madison County“.
Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt’s third term vice president (1941-1945) and the actor John Wayne (who gets a shout-out in this movie) were also born in Winterset. Unlike Wayne, whose family moved from Winterset when he was four, Stout spent his youth there – until he enrolled in undergraduate studies at Grinnell College. He interrupted his studies to join the U.S. Army in 1917 to fight in World War I. Stout served in a hospital unit, before returning to Iowa to complete his degree at the University of Iowa.
After that, he traveled and studied in Europe for a time. He married (a union that would last more than 50 years) and started a family.
In 1926, he was accepted for a Carnegie Fellowship at Harvard University to work on a master’s degree, and it was there that he became passionate about art conservation and the science involved in restoring decaying works of art. Upon graduation, he took a position at Fogg Museum, the oldest of the major trio of Harvard Art Museums, and its research centers, where he became an authority on preserving and repairing art works.
The Fogg, established in 1896, is noted for its collections of thousands of pieces of Italian Renaissance, British Pre-Raphaelite and French art
of the 19th century; it contains works by Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, John Singer Sargent and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. (No, I won’t link to all of these!)
Around the time, in 1943, when the Fogg was bequeathed the important 4,000-piece Grenville L. Winthrop collection, Stout was called to active duty (he had been a Navy reservist in early World War II; he ultimately rose to the rank of Lt. Cmdr.) and was assigned to fix airplanes. Eventually his art expertise became known, and he was among those tasked with a special mission: Identifying, protecting and preserving art works that were endangered by the war.
Stout and other Monuments Men landed with Allied troops on D-Day in Normandy, and advanced through France and Germany, alerting troops to the artworks in their paths, so these treasures could be spared from bombs and bullets when possible.
Although more than 300 fellow artists, curators, and other art experts were also a part of the so-called Monuments Men section, Stout played a lead role in the effort. When Allied troops advanced and re-took previously occupied territories, Stout was generally found on the front lines spearheading the effort to find looted treasures that had been stashed away in castles like Neuschwanstein, in bunkers, caves and even salt mines like Altaussee in Austria and Merkers, Germany; that’s where one of the largest troves of art, currency and 250 tons of Nazi gold – one of the linchpins in the Monuments Men movie plot – was found. (A PFC, Richard Mootz, in George Patton’s Third Army has recently been credited with initially finding the location.) Some of the rescues of these treasures were as dramatic and timely as Hollywood depicts them. (Despite what the movie’s script says, not all of Hitler’s gold, cash or treasure was found in Merkers; most of it is still unaccounted for.)
After V-E Day, Stout’s work did not end; he was transferred to Japan to head an MFAA division that had been set up there, at his suggestion.
Two years later, Stout came home and accepted a position as director of the Worcester Art Museum (1947-1954) and then the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (1955-1970) in Massachusetts. He helped found the International Institute for Conservation and was honored by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
Stout continued to be involved in art preservation almost until he died on July 1, 1978, in Santa Clara, California – a year after the movie’s poignant end.
Though well known in the art world, it seems Stout and his Monuments Men were not well known to the general public, nor were they properly acknowledged as the war heroes they were, until just recently.
Although the Monuments Men movie is a fictional account, it does focus much-deserved attention on men like Stout and how their real-life accomplishments averted an even greater cultural tragedy.
It is important to point out that not all of WWII’s looted art has been found or accounted for. So, the work of modern-day Monuments Men continues.
February 4, 2014
Posted in Monuments Men, Movie Trivia, Movies, World War II | Tags: Altaussee Austria, Frank Stokes, George Clooney, George Leslie Stout, Henry A. Wallace, Iowa, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Merkers Germany, MFAA, Monuments Fine Art and Archives, Monuments Men, Nazi Gold, Richard Mootz, The Monuments Men, Winterset, Worcester Art Museum
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