Kicking off my journey through the list of Best Picture Winners is 1927’s “Wings”. Until 2011, this was the only silent movie to win Best Picture. Silent movie is a bit of a misnomer though, as this movie has soundtrack playing throughout the feature. The story revolves around two small-town rivals, the local rich kid and the average Joe, both in love the same woman and who flying against the Germans in World War I. This was the first time I had seen this movie.
It was also the first time I had seen an old silent movie. I found the actors to be incredibly animated, which makes sense considering they were conveying all emotions using only their body language and facial features. Another interesting experience brought on by the age of the film was the ability to lose myself in the story. Not recognizing (or even knowing) any of the actors, beside a small part held by a young Gary Cooper, increased my immersion. So many times, while watching a movie, I’ll wonder where I had seen an actor before or have an idea of whom I thought should play a certain part. But not with this movie, and probably not in the near future of my project.
I had some trouble figuring out what exactly this movie was in the beginning. I wondered if it was a war movie, a romance flick, a zany comedy, or something else entirely. The start was a little rocky, but I think it finally settled into war movie with an interwoven romantic thread. Themes that might seem common for films today began to emerge: enemies becoming friends, a love triangle (square, really), a love unprofessed. All set against the backdrop of the War to End All Wars.
The scale of this movie was huge too. There must have been hundreds of extras, and contemplating the logistics of organizing that many people with no cell phones, email, or internet made my brain hurt. This must have been considered a blockbuster at the time. I was also surprised by the use of fake blood. I had always thought The Wild Bunch was the first movie to show blood, but there were several realistic scenes in Wings too.
I think the other most interesting aspect of this movie is that it was made less than a decade after the end of the war. The director had served during the war as a pilot, and he based a lot of the story on his experiences. These pilots were insane. No parachutes. No safety features. They were basically flying a kite with a motor and machine guns. The war was still fresh in audiences’ minds too, helping the American propaganda scenes go over well. It’s hard to place myself in another era, but I think watching this in 1927-28 must have been like watching Platoon or The Hurt Locker when they were released.
I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. The story has a few interesting twists and turns, and the war scenes are grand and fantastic. I definitely recommend watching. Just keep in mind it’s two and a half hours long with no talking, but I honestly didn't notice that much. “Wings” is available for streaming on iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu.
Up next, The Broadway Melody (1928/29)!