I was up early this morning and soon tired of listening to the news. So I enjoyed my coffee and cereal while watching my second ever Netflix “watch instantly” movie.
I prefer the term “desktop cinema” for this activity, a delightful use of broadband internet. I suppose it’s possible to get that video streamed onto a big TV, but for now I’m happy to watch on my widescreen PC monitor.
Today’s choice: Stolen, a 2005 documentary about the biggest art theft in modern history – still unsolved. In the wee hours of March 18, 1990, as much of Boston was sleeping off – or winding down – St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, men disguised as cops entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and made off with 13 priceless masterworks. Including Vermeer’s “The Concert” and Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
Stolen deftly educates in two hours. The common thread is obsession – or at least preoccupation. Scholars are moved to tears recalling the Vermeer, or thinking of the dire selfishness of those who would deprive the world of such art. Novelist Tracy Chevalier saw Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” at 19, has had a poster of it on her wall at home ever since, and wrote the best-selling novel inspired by the painting.
Investigator Harold Smith follows leads down blind alleys in search of the stolen masterpieces. He gets conned, may have gotten close, and although never finding any of the pictures is not discouraged after all of it. Smith had battled skin cancer for fifty years by then and went about wearing a natty suit, a fedora, an eye patch and a prosthetic nose. He was not the easily discouraged type. (He died shortly before the film’s release.)
We learn of the Irish Republican Army connection, and as Smith follows that trail we meet a hyperactive Brit art “locator” and a Scotland Yard fine art squad investigator who works with him from time to time. We get a hint that even the IRA may have some preoccupation with public image; after 9/11/2001, it’s suggested, the “Republicans” as they seem to like to be called now – dumping the “army” name – wanted to distance themselves from the idea of terrorism. The Irish connection seems less far-fetched as we go along; Boston’s heavy with Irish connections, respectable and criminal, and the IRA has stolen Vermeers before in other places.
The museum exists only because of Gardner‘s obsessive drive in amassing her collection and creating the setting for it. After the death of her two year old son, the despondent Gardner had been taken by her husband on a voyage across the Atlantic. When they returned she had recovered her energy, and went on to a lifelong pursuit of art and artifacts to collect.
Near the end of Stolen a museum employee tells of his first visit there, as a boy. He stood before the portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, and believes that heard her speak to him: “You’re mine, and you’ll know me all your life.” In the context this film provides, the scene is poignant, and his coming to work at the museum simply the fulfillment of a life purpose.