For the February Prompt, I went for a deep cut, so deep it ended up being the first film to be honored with the Best Picture Oscar and the only silent film to be receive the honor, the 1927 film, “Wings” (“The Artist” doesn’t count as a silent film, according to the internet). Well technically “Wings” was awarded the Best Production award. Per Danny Peary’s wonderful book “Alternate Oscars”, the reason “Wings” receive this distinction of a Best Picture winner is because the Best Production award was the last award given at the event. “Wings” has always been a bit of trivia, I’ve never read a review or researched it prior to this post. Most of research came from the wikipedia page, which provides an in-depth discussion of the film’s production. The insight of the film’s production help improved the viewing experience. Even though the film is over 90 years old, it would gives off the vibe as an Oscar Bait film. An epic, long film about fighter pilots during World War I and for a nice additional effect a weird, convoluted love triangle, well there are two love triangles, so maybe a love rhombus would be the better descriptor. Silent films do not have many entries in my lifetime film journal, “Wings” was maybe the 3rd or 4th silent film I’ve watched. I don’t dislike them as with most thing it’s time, access was limited in my younger days and I struggle to find the right mood to sit down and watch a silent film. It took me three sittings to get this watch in, at times it felt more like homework than entertainment. Clocking in at 2 hours and 24 minutes was overkill, which is my fault, I assumed this would clock in around the 90 minute mark. Anyway, back to the film’s plot, “Wings” is a story about two young men, David and Jack, who go off to war to become pilots. They both are interested in the city girl, Sylva. This creates part of the love rhombus, Sylva love is for David and she is unable to come clean to Jack about the truth. Then there is the underutilized actress Clara Bow, who plays the girl next door, Mary, she is in love with Jack but isn’t able to get obtain his attention.
I wonder if the audience thought this story was as cliché in 1927 as it is today. The whole plot kept reminding me of “Pearl Harbor” (I did not have the desire to research the plot of Pearl Harbor, sorry readers, you can call this laziness, I call it not carrying). As Jack and David go off to train to become pilots, there is competition between the two but their friendship is bonded during a boxing match. The one relationship that works in the movie, is their friendship.
For a film about fighter pilots, it takes 40 minutes to see some plane action. You want to talk about the Tom Cruise doing his own stunts, Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen, started it all they flew the planes in the films for their close up shots. This is the magic of the film, the flight scenes are pretty amazing, considering this film was made over 90 years ago. I was expecting the work to be kind of shoddy, some planes on a wire or something but these were real planes. Now there are some odd stylistic effects, which I assume were done for the blu-ray involving orange showing up as planes explode or shoot their weapons. If there was one negative aspect of the aerial battles it was the lack of distinguishing between the planes. While it takes a while for the first aerial scene to show up they stay around for the remaining amount of the movie, which can get dull. The film hints at the tragedy of war at a personal level which I found surprising how deep it could get with this being a silent film. Watching Jack and David try to escape the misery of the war through alcohol is pretty effective, it involves the use of bubbles appearing as Jack drinks and become intoxicated, it really hits home that these soldiers are just young men, barely adults. I think the darker aspects of the film have been forgotten in current discussions because they are overshadowed and dragged down by the love rhombus. The whole love aspect is useless for a majority of the film. According to the production history the love story was expanded to allow Clara Bow to perform in the movie. While she has a wonderful presence on the screen, her role is one sided, even though she volunteers as a driver in France during the war, that depth is basically thrown away with her pining over Jack. While the story is lacking the merits of this film rely in the technical use of the camera, this includes a few shots outside the aerial footage. The wonderful crane shot in the Paris bar is amazing, you should be able to find a youtube video or even a gift to see this shot. One of personal favorites was the camera swinging with two characters on a swing and having a character approach the couple. The most exhilarating shots are the cameras mounted on the front of the plane watching the actors fly. A lot of these scenes are exciting to watch due it just being the actor and the open sky or ground behind them, the constant change of depth is breathtaking in black and white. Credit should be given to the actors, they show amazing emotion during these battles, which pulls the viewer into their anger and their fear.
Overall, I’m glad I took the time to watch “Wings”. It has a nice little spot in history as the first Best Picture winner. I would recommend the blu-ray, which looked great and was fairly cheap, costing only $7.89 on Amazon.