One of the first Academy Award winners for Best Picture, William Wellman’s “Wings” (1927) screens tonight at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater, 7:30 p.m. Wellman’s son, William Wellman Jr., will be in attendance.
Starring Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard Arlen, “Wings” arguably is the best aviation war film of all time, with aerial combat scenes that stand up against the biggest budget action movies of today or any other era. I’ve seen it in theaters three times now, and yet still am considering a fourth go. It’s just that good. Find out more after the jump.
“Wings” isn’t just one of the best war films, it’s one of the most exciting films ever made, and holds up today better than most films from the silent era. You don’t have to be a silent film fan or even like silent films at all to like “Wings.” Even if you hate silent films you stand a good chance of falling in love with “Wings.”
There was no CGI back then, and less compunction about sending movie stars up in planes to participate in the stunts, as this clip shows:
There’s controversy over the sound effects added by Paramount for the 2012 restoration, but as the author of this piece discovers and somewhat acknowledges, technically, though we refer to “the silent era” in retrospect, there was never such a thing as a silent movie. It’s more apt to simply acknowledge that at the end of the 20s “talkies” emerged and eventually became the dominant film medium.
First it’s important to note that films of that era almost always had some sound accompaniment, including music (whether a piano or full-blown orchestra), stage actors providing narration and dialogue, and sound effects, usually live but later pre-recorded and played back in a fashion very similar to a contemporary film.
Also, so very important to consider: So-called “silents” were not called “silent movies” when they were being made and released. That’s simply what we call them today. Films of that era were simply called “motion pictures.” Since the distinction was only brought about by the invention of the “talkie,” there was no distinction before that invention.
I have no problem with the restoration of “Wings” (1927) to include sound effects. My argument: It’s not an art film; Paramount seems to have tried to do its best to mimic sound effects as they were intended; its makers arguably would have used today’s sound technology if they had it.
A couple of extra points:
The color in the film is original, restored but not enhanced.
Gary Cooper, an unknown at the time, has a walk on role, and you can feel that innate movie star quality he has as soon as he steps on the screen, as strong as any of the leads.
posted by Nicholas Em