Well, Oscar season is upon us. This year (cinematically speaking, at least) was pretty good, and there are all kinds of "Best of 2012" lists out there to show for it. Don't worry, I don't want to further pollute the internet with another, but I am going to start an Oscar-themed feature that will pop up periodically. I'm going to take us on a journey through the years and feature the winners in the Best Picture category, starting with the first winner, the 1927 war epic Wings.
Wings is the story of two WWI flying aces and the girl they both love. The story itself is really quite simple, but it has enough of that classic old-movie charm to make it really pretty delightful to watch. The action scenes are outstanding considering the time period. This was one of the last great silent movies before the sound revolution a few months later, and it provides a rare glimpse into the pre-Depression entertainment world.
Let's talk about the movie first. What struck me most were the action scenes, the mid-air dog fights. You can tell these are really pioneering scenes. They don't always have the cohesiveness or sense of story that we have come to expect, but the shots are really thrilling and sometimes astonishing considering when the film was made. Remember those in-cockpit shots of the pilots from Star Wars? Wings had them first.
There is also great chemistry between Charles Rogers (who plays one of the aces) and Clara Bow. Bow is especially great to watch. She has a natural energy that cuts through some of the melodrama the rest of the cast creates. She plays more than the classic "damsel in distress" or the weak female in search of a strong man. She is laying the groundwork on which the great actresses of the 30s and 40s would build.
As great as the photography is, the story is pretty melodramatic. Of course now it doesn't matter; we know the movie is 85 years old. But it does tell a little about the world in which it was made, and a little of film history. For that reason it is pretty interesting. We get a glimpse of the pre-Depression beauty queen in Clara Bow. She never appears in a glamourous gown as she might have in the escapist movies of the 30s. She seems a little more down-to-earth. There are traces of the "old" ideal: men still wear morning suits and there is nobility in war. There are efforts to make the movie story-focused as well as star-focused. Audiences maybe want a little more to chew on. Once you get through the melodrama you can see into past through a unique piece of history.
So is Wings the most entertaining war movie ever, or the best picture of all time? No. But I definitely consider it well worth seeing, especially if you dig film history or just like old movies.
by Chase Harrison