Film 14: Wings

wings 1927

Wings (1927) dir. William A. Wellman.  USA.

“Ironically, a mass-market silent spectacular like William Wellman’s Wings effortlessly showcases far more visual variety than mainstream American films have offered since: it displays shifts from brutal realism to nonrealistic techniques associated with Soviet avant-garde or impressionistic French cinema – double exposures, subjective point-of-view shots, trick effects, symbolic illustrations on the titles, and so on.”

–Scott Eyman

Abigail: This was so much fun.  It was a less problematic, more humorous “Pearl Harbor.” Clara Bow is absolutely darling from the very first moment.  The dog fights (adorably quotation marked for an unfamiliar audience) are truly amazingly shot.   The story clips along to a surprising heartbreak.  This was really a delight from beginning to end.  The first Best Picture Oscar winner, and our first big Hollywood movie on the docket.  And that doesn’t feel incidental.

Forrest:  What a glorious picture!  I went into this pretty skeptical, especially after “Faust” and “The Passion of Joan of Arc” — they were just so good and so weird and so unique that I was pretty reluctant to go back to Hollywood. (“Wings” is in the docket because it’s the first ever Best Picture winner.) But instead of frustrated by it, what I found was a reminder of why I love movies. “Wings” is old fashioned, romantic, funny, melodramatic,  thrilling, and a stunning demonstration of star power. It’s a true epic. The war scenes are genuinely rousing, setting a template that’s still utilized by everyone from Steven Spielberg to Michael Bay. (“Pearl Harbor,” it turns out, wouldn’t exist without “Wings.”) Also, Clara Bow is amazing. She’s charming and witty and her eyes sparkle. Her male co-stars aren’t quite up to her standard, but one of them does look exactly like the lovechild of Billy Crudup and Robert Downey, Jr., which the world doesn’t know it needed. Also, a young Gary Cooper shows up for a scene and demonstrates in about six seconds why he’s Gary Cooper. All told, this is a sparkling example of Hollywood spectacle at its finest and most pure.

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