Wings (1927)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 // Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Release Year: 1927 // Director: William A. Wellman
Genre: Action, Drama, Romance, War
Academy Award: Best Picture, Best Engineering Effects (now Best Visual Effects), 1927-28

A few housekeeping details:
– First, I forgot this was a silent film until about thirty seconds into it.
– Second, I watched the Blu-ray restoration version from Paramount that includes an extra 33 minutes. That’s a lot of extra for a silent film.
– Third, there’s a brief visual history of the Paramount logo at the beginning. It just kind of goes on and on through a dozen iterations in a mildly entertaining fashion.
– Fourth, the soundtrack will get stuck in your head.

And now, the film.

Up until now, most of the silent films I’ve seen have been short. Or the first half of WALL-E. So a two-and-a-half hour silent film was an entirely new experience. Not one I want to repeat all the time, though I did thoroughly enjoy this film.

The story itself is the oft-used girl-next-door trope, and the two boys competing for her hand go off to become pilots in the Great War. While not an original story by any means, the familiarity made it easy to follow sans dialogue.

As I watched, I began to wonder just how often—if at all—dialogue today is used as a crutch, rather than an asset. Wings featured occasional dialogue intertitles, but these of course are no substitute for the extensive dialogue found in the majority of movies. But without the spoken word, the physicality of the actors became all the more important, and I found myself focusing on things I’ve never noticed in other films.

That’s not to say that acting today doesn’t feature the same physicality as in 1927, but only that, without dialogue to distract or cover over, I simply noticed it more, which was a pleasant treat.

Though the first film to win what is now the Academy Award for Best Picture, Wings is perhaps best known for some of its aerial combat sequences, which are just as stunning today as they were at the time. This is the stuff of cameras mounted on planes and actors doing their own flying—basically, Tom Cruise before there was Tom Cruise.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was one of the first, if not the first, films to ever feature both nudity (of the male and female variety) and a same-sex kiss (albeit a non-romantic one)—though it would be another twelve years before Gone with the Wind would fully usher curse words into the common movie scene.

Overall, I’m glad to have this one under my belt. Only 90 more best picture winners to go.

Comments are closed.