Sunday, August 3, 2008
#1a: Wings (1927/28)
Winner of "Best Production" category at the 1927/28 Academy Awards (the 1st annual Academy Awards ceremony)
Ceremony Held: May 16, 1929
Winners had been named 3 months earlier
Only time ceremony was not broadcast in some way
Academy Awards were born "the year sound was born" in the movies
(with thanks to The Greatest Films for the details)
Well, I wasn't kidding when I said this was a very slow movie marathon. However, I finally had a chance to sit down and watch another Best Picture Academy Award-winning film today, Wings. This film is commonly referred to as the first movie to win the award for Best Picture, but that's actually somewhat inaccurate -- it actually took away the award for Best Production. There was a second category in that first year, Best Artistic Quality of Production, or Best Unique and Artistic Picture, which is why I am considering Wings #1a. The film Sunrise, which won the award for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, rightfully ought to be considered the co-winner for Best Picture, in my opinion, particularly as that category seems to bear just as much resemblance to the current Best Picture category as the Best Production category did. So, at any rate, I'm planning to watch and write a little bit about both films.
I found it surprising that this, or any other Academy Award-winning picture, might be difficult to find, but Wings does appear to be a bit difficult to locate on DVD. I'm trying to get as many of these films as possible via Netflix, but this one was not. It looked as if it might be possible to pick up a copy in VHS format, at the very least, but rather than buying it, I lucked out and located it playing on TCM, so I set the DVR to record it, and voila.
Perhaps at least part of the reason this film isn't in much demand, and therefore more difficult to find, is that many people, like me, don't much understand or relate to silent films. After all, movies with sound were around by the time my grandparents were young children -- so it's three generations before me that would have really gone to a lot of silent films. Also, I don't know why, but I am often surprised at just how LONG many of the silent films I have seen are. Wings is a good 2 hours and 20 minutes. I hear people complain that movies "nowadays" are getting longer and longer, but clearly, this is not a new phenomenon. Still, despite this, I would like to better understand silent film, and I think that this one was a good one to delve into. It seems particularly momentous to me that the dawn of the Oscars also truly heralded the end of the great silent film era. This was the first and last year that the Best Picture award(s) went to a silent film. Upon reflection, I suppose it does make some sense that silent films had to be so long -- you had to see the scene, and then you had to read the dialogue, adding just a bit of time to each scene throughout the movie.
I'm actually a little surprised to report that I enjoyed Wings a lot more than I would have anticipated. I tend to think of many silent films as overdone (so much emoting!), or unrealistic, or ... something. And yet there were many scenes and moments in this film that were really quite realistic and some that were even very poignant and touching. Ultimately, it's a tale of friendship love, and war, and the sacrifices that people make in the name of all of those things. A lot of times, it seems difficult to me to reconcile and relate what I see in a silent film to what life was probably actually like, real people, having real things happen to them. But this film succeeded more than some I've seen in making me believe that it was at least a little bit reflective of real life, World War I, as depicted from the viewpoint of the 1920s. I'll chime right in with what many other reviewers have said, as well, which is that the flying scenes are quite amazing -- no special effects here, or at least very few. The two leading men did their own flying, both in the film and in real life (this info, courtesy their IMDB bios, as well as other film sites -- check the margin for links to ones I've used.) Such a thing would be completely unheard of now in a world where actors doing ANY of their own stunt work are incredibly few and far between...maybe Jackie Chan and a handful of others. Good grief. nowadays, many actors don't even do their own "butt work." So it does seem that there's something a lot purer and more organic about people deciding to tell a story in a movie, and so they act it out to some degree as if they were living it, flying the planes and all. They probably had some fun blowing stuff up as well -- I can't imagine how dangerous these kinds of early stunts, explosions, and fires were -- I'm certain that technology has changed massively in that arena.
The other thing that really struck me about the flying scenes was that if this is really what flying in WWI was like (and how should I know, I certainly wasn't there!), then it really is some crazy, daredevil stuff. Those planes look like little haphazard death traps, if you ask me. But then, I suppose I'm one to occasionally get a bit freaked out on commercial airliner flights. And war is so stupid, yo. (Which makes me look forward to watching Oscar Winner #3, All Quiet On the Western Front, a movie bearing pretty much the same message.) Loved the crazy shot of men shoving bombs onto planes with their bare hands -- which is probably exactly how it went down, and which I can't imagine happening now. It's interesting to me as well, to see WWI from a viewpoint scarcely a decade later, because I've recently been reading the Maisie Dobbs series of mysteries, in which the female detective is a private investigator who was a nurse in WWI about a decade previous to the action of the books, and much of the plots and themes of those stories deals with WWI and its aftermath. So it's interesting to get a chance to compare WWI through a modern vision to WWI as represented by its contemporaries. It does seem to me that WWI must have been one of the most horrific wars, as technology far outpaced the mechanics of actual warfare -- fighting in the old way, but with new, even deadlier weapons.
Now, all this isn't to say that there isn't some bad acting or some silly-looking effects to modern eyes in this film. But for what the filmmakers had to work with at the time, it really is pretty good. Okay, the bubbles scenes were weird and lame, those "special effects" I could have done without. People don't get THAT crazy when they're drunk, unless that was absinthe in those glasses... But I can overlook a few missteps.
I really enjoyed Clara Bow in this film (she's so cute! I can understand why she was beloved), and from what little biographical info I read about her on IMDB, I'd be interested in reading more, so maybe I'll see if there are any biographies out there. Hers is such an interesting story -- such unlikely beginnings, such atypical behavior even when she was famous, and then sad things later in life as well, like struggles with mental illness, possibly schizophrenia.
Also, I can certainly see why Charles "Buddy" Rogers was nicknamed "America's Boyfriend" -- that dude was good-looking!
At any rate, I'm overall very happy that I got a chance to see this film. I certainly recommend it, and I hope it will make its way to readily-available DVD soon.