I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wings, 1927

Not Rated

This film won the Academy’s very first distinguished top honor. “Wings” won Best Picture for the 1927-28 season and is the only silent film that has won (to date that is… ironically, there’s currently some “Oscar buzz” about “The Artist” which is a B&W silent film out now in select theatres). “Wings” is also one of only 3 winning films in history to NOT have the Director up for Best Director. In addition to that, it is the only film in history to technically win the award for “Best Engineering Effects”…. It’s because they scrapped that category the following year. It came back in the ‘40’s as Best Special Effects and is known now as Best Visual Effects. Considering the year of its release and the technology available then, I am not surprised it won such an award.

The competition wasn’t as stiff back then as it was only up against “The Racket” and “Seventh Heaven”. (For some reason, two other films were omitted from the list.) Interestingly, the first “talking picture” came out this year but was ineligible for the win because it wasn’t fair competition for the other silent films. However, sound effects were actually recorded for some of the action scenes involving airplanes and explosions in “Wings” and were played during the film in some theatres. It’s kind of confusing though, because there were really two Best Picture wins… The Academy originally wanted two winners and so they awarded “Wings” with Most Outstanding Motion Picture Production (which became known as Best Picture) and another silent film “Sunrise” with Most Unique, Artistic, Worthy, and Original Production. Did you understand that? If so, can you explain it to me? I would assume a film that was outstanding was also unique, artistic, worthy, and original. The next year, they scrapped that superfluous second category and for history’s sake, “Wings” became known as the first Best Picture winner. One of these days I’ll get around to watching the film whose award describes it as the better picture.

You used to be able to only buy this film on VHS or be lucky enough to catch it airing on TCM (the Turner Classic Movie Channel). Netflix doesn’t even offer it. But, if you’re interested in it after reading my post, you’ll be able to buy it on Blu-ray for the first time on January 24, 2012.

The story is about two young men, Jack and David, who leave to fight in World War I as pilots in 1917. They leave behind a girl they both have their eyes on, in addition to another girl, Mary, who is hopelessly in love with Jack, but he doesn’t notice. (Mary eventually joins the war too by driving first aid trucks.) The men do such a good job fending off the Germans in their planes, that they get decorated. With that, comes a leave to Paris and a night of too much champagne. However, they’re immediately called back because it’s time for “The Big Push” (all the Allies fighting together in a last big attack). David is attacked in his plane and goes down (with apparently eight more lives though). He’s able to hijack a German plane to fly back to base. But in one last ironic twist of fate, his best buddy Jack shoots him down in the enemy plane. Here they are in a touching scene very near the end:

After reading some commentaries online, I found there’s some mixed thoughts about this film. Some see the intense relationship between Jack and David as romantic. And one might think so if looking at the picture above. There’s even a kiss (on the side of the mouth) just after that shot. My personal thought is that that’s how intense relationships among same sexes were back then. The next year’s Best Picture winner, “The Broadway Melody”, for example, had the sisters share a kiss that lasted longer than a couple seconds. In this film, David gives his mother a big kiss goodbye, on the lips. I think that’s just the way it was done. But I am no expert on homosexuality in early theatre, and judging by the look on Mary’s face in this picture, maybe there is something more going on there… who really knows?

This was my first viewing of a silent film all the way through and I knew beforehand that I’m not one to really appreciate them. Even the ever-present, constant, never-ending organ music couldn’t keep me completely focused or invested. The film has black screens that pop up every once in a while for dialogue which help clarify some scenes but overall, it is a simple enough story to follow. What I find interesting though, is that the dialogue most definitely does not fit the words coming out of their mouths (verbatim). I’m not the best lip reader, especially when it seems as though the film was shot a bit faster than real time, but anyone could tell the words don’t match. I guess the point is just to get the gist. The actors make up for not being heard with their extreme facial expressions and body movements throughout most of the movie. (Hopefully, if I open my eyes wide enough, he will know I’m scared/angry/surprised….) I also don’t like how the camera would cut off an actor mid-word or sentence. Can’t the guy get a full shot before you cut to the other actor (or dialogue card)??

I know little about aviation and I was surprised at how these men flew planes with absolutely no covering over their heads AND no helmets. I mean, really. If the plane were to go down (from 10,000 feet!), wouldn’t you want a little bit of insurance if it just meant putting on a hard hat? But, I guess that would prevent them from being able to look around in every direction for attackers. The aerial footage is another thing that makes this film special. The dogfights made the planes look like birds circling around prey down below. It was artistic and I can only assume how incredibly difficult it was to get the amazing shots of those fight scenes and crashes… something we take for granted now with CGI. What’s even more amazing is that I read these two actors really were up in the air. There were no rear projections screens or cinema “tricks”.

I had to look up the word “Heinies” since the pilots throw that word around a bit. I was correct in assuming it was a term for the Germans- a derogatory one that was short for the common German name Heinrich. I only was familiar with my Grammie’s use of that word for “buttocks”.

At the very beginning of the film, it is written: To those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated. I think this is a beautiful dedication and it makes me think… Books are often dedicated to the people who inspired the authors; why aren’t more movies?


The last few scenes kept me pretty glued to the screen following David’s trek back to the safe land. The friend’s farewell scene (pictured above) is tender and heartbreaking.


The fraternal bonds formed in war are profound and unbreakable. David and Jack learned together, flew together, and looked out for and defended each other, even though they started out fighting over the same girl. I know that men who fight in wars together have an unmistakable bond.

Don’t go chasing after a boy who doesn’t love you. Thankfully for Mary, Jack does realize that he loves her, but for a while, she was looking a little desperate, and that’s not attractive.