Wings (1927/1928)

Here it is: the very first Best Picture.

I first saw Wings a couple of years ago at the Somerville Theater, where they had (and hopefully still do) an ongoing series in which they played old silent films with a live musical accompaniment. It was really a great way to experience a silent film, immersive in the way that all good entertainment can be.

I’d gone into this movie without much of a sense of what it was about, except that it probably involved planes (regular ol’ Sherlock, that one). Before this, my only sense of silent movies was from clips of stuff like Charlie Chaplin, all of it choppy and sped up. I wasn’t sure how a full-length movie might go, especially if I had to read my way through it (God, if I’m expected to read, I might as well just get a book!).

A brief plot summary for those who aren’t familiar: Wings takes place in 1917, focusing on the lives of two pilots in World War I. They start as bitter rivals, fighting over the same girl’s affections, but learn to trust each other through the agonies of war and end up the closest of friends. And in the meantime, they engage in some badass dogfights in their Sopwith Camels against the Red Baron. Or am I thinking of something else?

Anyway, color me impressed. What was particularly amazing to me was the ease with which I followed the story – I could figure out quickly who the characters were and how they related to one another. The story itself felt familiar, but since it came before all the other movies I’ve seen, I figure it was only because all films steal the plotlines of what has come before. Though the storytelling method was unusual (to me), I found myself pretty invested, and the ending was genuinely wrenching.

Wings kiss

Jack and David refused to let a woman come between them and instead declared their love for each other.

The only thing that felt cheesy from a modern perspective was the bubbles scene, when drunk-Jack hallucinates bubbles everywhere. I don’t know what that was all about. I’m sorry to say that I’ve never hallucinated bubbles – or anything else – when drunk, but maybe I just haven’t been drinking enough.

One interesting detail that I learned was that the actors actually learned to fly the airplanes themselves. Many of the in-flight shots are from cameras mounted on the planes to show their faces and the surrounding scene during the battles. How they managed to not kill themselves doing that, I truly don’t know.

So, in summary, silent movies are kind of neat. They’re like eavesdropping on a conversation when you don’t quite catch all the words, which is basically what my life is like all the time. It’s a shame that every movie after that was a talkie. Right?

Theme:  Silent Film

First Time Watching?  No, saw it in a theater with live music.

Loved it/Liked it/Hated it:  Hard to say