Thursday, December 17, 2009

1927/28 - Wings

Awards season is in full swing now with the Golden Globe nominations announced on Tuesday and the SAG nominees announced this morning, plus several critics associations releasing their picks of the year as well. And as is often the case, there are several names that keep popping up. I love awards season (as this project probably indicates) but I find this early part of the season particularly fascinating - watching the favourites emerge. There is always buzz around certain films and actors, but until the announcements are announced and the press releases released, it really is just conjecture. But now that the honouring has begun, the ultimate guessing game - that of the Oscar winners - becomes much more interesting. I had considered prematurely offering my Oscar predictions here and now, but after a decent amount of deliberation, I can simply not pick a front-runner for any category as of yet. Perhaps over the next few weeks, as I see more of the contenders, I'll share my thoughts on each of the major categories.

For now, however, I'll stick to the past and comment on the final Best Picture nominee from Oscar's inaugural year...

William A. Wellman
John Monk Saunders, Hope Loring & Louis D. Lighton
Clara Bow, Charles Rogers, Richard Arlen
Academy Awards:
2 nominations
2 wins, including Best Picture

Another classic from the silent era, Wings follows Jack Powell (Rogers) and David Armstrong (Arlen) as they enlist in the American Air Service in World War I. They begin as bitter rivals, both in love with the same woman. Jack mistakenly believes his love is requited, consequently ignoring advances from an actual admirer, the sweet Mary Preston (Bow). Once enlisted, however, the rivalry quickly turns to lasting friendship as the two fighter pilots battle alongside each other in daring feats of air combat.

Wings begins with a touch of pantomime. But most silent films lean in that direction, so I can let that one go. Besides, once the spectacular war scenes begin, all the ham acting of silent film stars is easily forgotten. I recently expressed my admiration of 7th Heaven's battle scenes, but Wings completely blows them away. The aerial action in this picture is simply phenomenal, comparable to anything you might see in a modern flick. In fact, if they had today's technology, they probably wouldn't have been so authentic. The flying is real. The crashes are real. The exploding blimps are real. There is even a jaw-dropping scene in which we see real missiles explode on a town, all from the point of view of the plane dropping the bombs. The whole thing is made all the more impressive when you discover that Rogers and Arlen piloted planes themselves for all their close-ups.

Along with the standard dialogue titles, there are also a large number of narration titles, creating a sort of storybook feel to the picture, which at first just seems a little childish. In particular, the narration during the first aerial battle is somewhat reminiscent of sports commentary. Nonetheless, once the story has you hooked, it is actually quite effective. There are also some fancy superimposing tricks that brighten up that boring white text on a black background. Plus, we are treated to some cool bubble effects during Jack's drunken stupor.

Watch out for Gary Cooper in one of his first credited roles as a flying ace who fatefully scoffs at good luck charms. And being a pre-Code film, Clara Bow (pictured) is able to offer some mild titillation to her fans by showing a little skin, an image that somehow always seems out of place in old movies.

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