Friday, May 17, 2013

Wings (1st Best Picture, 1927-28)

I'm not sure why I wanted to see the movie Wings in the first place. Usually I have a definite "stream of consciousness" reason for watching something; for example, I had been watching episodes of "The Carol Burnett Show" and Maggie Smith guest-starred on a recent show. I wondered what she had been doing at about that time in the mid-Seventies and keyed into the Columbus Library. I found California Suite, another "Grand Hotel-type film" ala Dinner At Eight and Grand Hotel. I also noted that Maggie Smith won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that film, so I decided to borrow it from the library. (I didn't like it.)
It wasn't quite as logical with Wings. I guess I had always known of it as the very first Academy Award winning "Best Picture." And I know I had never seen it. So I must have typed it in as a lark, and when I saw that it was actually available I decided to reserve it.
This was a lot of words to explain to you how I watched a silent movie and that I really enjoyed it.
Wings was the third silent movie I have ever seen. The version I saw on restored DVD was the colorized version; night scenes had a blue hue, indoor scenes had an orange tint, and day scenes had a yellow glow. Once you got past that, though, it was a fun movie to watch. Oh, and the fact that nobody ever *said* anything! Actually, I need to amend that comment: everybody talked, but I just couldn't hear them. I wonder if audiences in the Twenties were better at lip reading? Or maybe they used their imaginations more? In one scene the heroine of the film, played by Clara Bow, is talking to her unrequited love, played by Buddy Rogers. I could tell that she was saying something about going off to war, but the last part I couldn't "catch." I had to wait until the title cards to read exactly what she had said. Also, sometimes actors would face away from the camera while speaking, and yet their dialogue would not always be provided! I thought that was very strange. Or even more odd for me, sometimes the actors would speak for several seconds, obviously saying all sorts of things, and then the title card would provide a simple, "Okay!" or something. You're kidding me, right? I had to actually *watch* the entire movie; there were no chances for me to grab a snack in the kitchen because I couldn't "hear" the dialogue during my dash. This is the first time in a long time that I sat riveted to the screen, hitting the "pause" button if I needed to move. 
The story involves Jack and David, rivals for the affection of a girl. David is played Richard Arlen.  They both sign up for the Air Force (although that is not what it is called at the time) at the onset of the US involvement in World War I and are rivals there, too. Finally they have a fist fight, and in true male bonding fashion once they duke it out they become best friends. The rest of the movie is their experiences training to fly and then actually flying. Clara Bow is the star in name only; she joins up as an ambulance driver and tries to meet up with Jack in Paris, but the vast majority of screen time is devoted to Jack and David.
Paramount Pictures received the support of the US Army during the making of this motion picture. They filmed on five acres outside of Fort Sam Houston in Texas, with a cast of thousands of extras, many of them Army personnel. While I was watching the film I thought I was watching some actual newsreel footage, then realized that that would have been impossible. It was *that* realistically filmed.
The aerial "dog fights" are wonderfully staged and filmed, too. While I was watching them I thought perhaps some of them were faked, but it they were they were so well edited that it was impossible for me to tell.
The first silent movie I ever saw was Birth of A Nation in high school; the second silent movie I ever saw was Mel Brooks' Silent Movie. Wings is head and shoulders above both in quality. 

Wings (1927)
*Academy Award Best Picture 1927-28*
Produced by Adolph Zukor
Directed by William Wellman
Screenplay by Louis Lighton & Hope Loring

fan-made trailer for WINGS

a trailer for the remastered edition  

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
The Racket
Seventh Heaven
I've never heard of either of these. I guess the honor of being the (first) Academy Award winning film has made Wings absolutely immortal, setting it above all of its contemporaries. If it had lost to one of these other films, I guess we would be discussing that one and not Wings. Something to think about.

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