The life of Pompeii is preserved in Pompeii Live from the British Museum

A review by Brenda Daniels

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is the filmed version of an exhibition set in the British Museum. The exhibition is titled Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and displays fascinating archaeological pieces unearthed from these two ancient Italian towns. The exhibition is “live” in the sense that a number of experts are interviewed at the museum where they explain the various exhibits.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum is not to be confused with the recently released Pompeii – a film currently on circuit in South African Ster Kinekor classic theatres.

So, just how thrilling could a film based on an exhibition be, you ask. Well, I think the subject of the exhibition is the draw card here. Pompeii is famous. In AD79 Mount Vesuvius erupted in spectacular fashion, engulfing this Roman-Italian town in 300 degree Celcius larva. The town was completely buried and partly uncovered only in modern times. Much of what was uncovered was recognisable and has therefore given twenty-first century citizens a glimpse into what life was like in that part of the Roman empire some 2000 years ago.

What the filmed exhibition does is breathe life into the archaeological items on display. So, real life – and people – in Roman times begin to emerge with the explanation of pieces of jewellery, cooking equipment, an intact loaf of bread, wall murals, street  signs and rooms in houses and public houses.

Herculaneum, a nearby but less well-known town, was also devastated by the volcano. Items shown from this town include wooden furniture turned to charcoal by the unimaginable heat.

My own interest in Pompeii began years ago when I read a historical fiction account of the event. I was amazed at how advanced a culture the Roman’s was. And then, in 2012 I visited Pompeii itself and saw firsthand a Roman road, complete with wagon wheel ruts, a brothel, a Roman baths and of course human bodies “frozen” at the moment of death.

Pompeii Live from the British Museum makes a very important point. The archaeological sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum are in danger of not being preserved. The experts in the documentary all agree on one thing: preserve what we have before digging for more.

I hope this film creates an awareness that will go some way to helping preserve this amazing piece of history. Of life.

The documentary releases in HD at the four digital Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa – Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The exhibition will be screened for four shows only: 22, 26 and 27 March at 7.30pm and 23 March at 2.30pm. The film runs for one and a half hours.

 

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

Brenda Daniels outside what was then the ancient Roman fast food take away, just outside the theatre. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road.  (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)
One of the main streets of Pompeii,wagon wheel tracks are visible. The stepping stones were for pedestrians to use in order to avoid stepping into the sewage which ran down the road. (Photo: Roxanne Daniels)

 

Message in The Monuments Men meanders vaguely

A review by Brenda Daniels

The Monuments Men is a World War II drama based on a true story. It recounts how artworks in the form of paintings and sculptures, stolen by the Nazis during the war, were recovered. The film features a cast of big names including George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Bill Murray.

Seven men, previously unconscripted because of age, are handpicked by Frank Stokes (Clooney) for their art expertise. They don uniforms right near the end of the war and set out on their mission to find the artworks and return them to their rightful owners.

There are no flashy heroics in this film. The characters are old and ordinary. And their mission of saving artworks seems silly when compared to saving human lives. But, argues their leader Stokes, preserving art is preserving culture. And culture reflects the importance of a people and their achievements.

What the group did recover is indeed staggering. What they helped prevent is monumental. Hitler had plans to build his own Führer Museum. He needed art, books and other treasures to fill it so stole what he needed, storing it up in hiding places. This ragtag bunch of chaps was instrumental in putting an end to his dreams.

Unfortunately The Monuments Men meanders through a vague plot, throwing in some sentimentality and personal suffering just for good measure. This makes what promised to be a fine film slow and unnecessarily long.

The actors do a good job, particularly Cate Blanchett as a sour but helpful source of intelligence. As a group they don’t leave a lasting impression nor do they capitalise on some potential for humour. Although The Monuments Men fails to make more of its noble message, the message does get through and is worth watching just for this.

The Monuments Men opens at NuMetro Theatres in South Africa on 14 February.

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle               (Source: Creative Commons)

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle (Source: Creative Commons)