Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Wings is a two-and-a-half-hour-long silent movie. It's also the only silent movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (well, they called it "Best Production" at the time, but it's still the first movie on the list), which means that I was obliged to see it.

The appeal at the time was Clara Bow (the "It" girl, and since this is pre-Hays Office, you actually get a fleeting glimpse of some "It") and the aerial dogfight scenes, which are still quite impressive. Biplanes swoop and flame out and crash and fly into buildings in a most entertaining and convincing manner. There's also a plot, of sorts, which concerns Jack (Buddy Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), being buddies in World War I but both loving the same gal: Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston) although David knows that Sylvia really loves him but he doesn't want to let his buddy down. It's obvious the whole time that Jack would be better off with his mechanic buddy Mary (Clara Bow), partly because that would sort things out, but mostly because she's clearly Clara Bow. It seems to me that if you're in a silent movie, you aren't going to do any better for youself than the "It" girl, you know? You can't hold out for Theda Bara! The odds are very low that she'll even show up.

If this movie were made today, there would be lots of slash fiction about it. First David and Dack have a fight. Then when they fly a mission, David is shot down and Jack thinks he's dead. This leads up to Jack vowing to either get revenge for David or not come back at all. It's all very buddy-movie, in which the men realize their bonds of friendship are more important than the women that divide them. All I'm saying is that if you were of a mind to, you could probably read something into some of these scenes. Like when David is dying (because he was in a stolen German plane and got shot down by Jack) and he says "Stay with me, Jack, for just a little while."

For a silent movie, there are refreshingly few title cards to slow down the action. I prefer these movies that let the actor get across the emotion in a scene, even if its via ridiculously outsized facial expressions at times, to the movies that interrupt every few seconds to relay every single line of dialogue. It turns out that most of what people say in movies can be cut out entirely, especially if it's a movie about World War I Flying Aces. Also, the camera moves around a lot, especially in this one Parisian restaurant scene that also includes animated special effects. It feels more modern than a silent movie from 1927 has any right to.

Lovers of old-timey ethnic humor will be pleased to note that Wings contains both a humorous Dutchman and a drunk Scotchman, although the absence of allegedly hilarious accents obviously restricts the possibilities for dialect jokes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I realize i'm a little late on this one but...

didn't they remake this? except its world war II and ben affleck... and obviously no clara bow.

or is this just a ridiculously overplayed storyline now?