Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Wings (1927-28)

We begin this epic--yes indeed, epic--Best Picture journey with Wings, a silent era epic--yes indeed, EPIC--set during The Great War or, as we yutzes in the 21st century know it, World War I. The film starts out much like an Archie comic mixed with A Midsummer Night's Dream: Both eager nice guy Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and richie rich gentleman David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) are in love with the sophisticated out-of-towner Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). Sylvia only has eyes for David, but Jack is too blind to realize anything of the sort. Jack is also blind to the ass over head hopeless devotion of his gal pal Mary Preston (Clara Bow).

But it's 1917 and America is needed Over There. Before both men enlist in the Air Service, Jack mistakenly assumes Sylvia returns his feelings which causes a rift between him and David. But long story short, they get over it BECAUSE THERE'S A FUCKING WAR GOING ON. Jack and David become friends, train, fly planes (hence Wings), meet Gary Cooper in a far too brief cameo, battle the Germans, fly more planes, battle some more Germans and so on and so forth...

I am not a fan of war movies. A fair fucking few have won Best Picture so I figure it best to get this out now, right from the commencement. I don't hate the genre by any means but as someone who has never been or will never go to war, I just can't relate. I like to find a character I can empathize with in some capacity and, as a woman, that is quite difficult to find in a war movie.

Now, that being said, Mary Preston doesn't sit at home pining for her darling Jack. She joins the Women's Motor Corp and drives around France delivering supplies, messages, etc. This leads to an interesting segue where Mary meets a celebrating Jack on leave in Paris and attempts to inform him that his furlough is over. He is frunk as druck and in the arms of some French floozy so Mary dresses up in a sequined dress to lure him away. He is more interested in the animated bubbles coming from her dress and eyes and passes out before anything can happen between him and the "mystery girl".

Is it important? Hell no. Did I enjoy the shit out of it? Hell yes.

If there are two things people know about Wings it's the film's first Best Picture winner status and that it boasts the first male-on-male kiss in cinema history. The aforementioned kiss is not romantic, of course, and takes place during a deathbed scene. Think Aragorn kissing Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring. Only now pretend they kiss on the lips instead of just the forehead. (I feel like I'm writing fan-fic here.) A man kissing a man goodbye is not a big deal but when it moves to the lips it sort of jars the modern sensibility.

Wings is sometimes noted for having a rife sexual tension between its male leads. At least in the eyes of a modern audience "sexual tension" is the easiest, most readily available label for Jack and David's closeness. Our heroes' mutual disdain, born from their rivalry over Sylvia, eventually turns into a deep friendship. They become inseparable, affectionate, and devoted to one another. But to call it "sexual" is unfair. By 1920's standards, this was simply acceptable male behavior, or else there is no way in hell Wings would have won Best Picture or have been as financially successful.

All Friend Zoney hijinks and bromo-eroticism aside, Wings is a war movie. Lots o' guns. Lots o' people dying. Lots o' aerial battles. From what the internet tells me, the flying scenes are super good. So there you go. It's a little "sloppy" compared to the pristine CGI polish of today, but it looks real. And hey, what do you know? THEY'RE REAL FUCKING PLANES. For all I know, someone was filming actual aerial battled in WWI and donated the footage to Paramount. God, I miss real effects and real crowd scenes.

Wings is a schizophrenic film. Half is heavy drama, seeped in the seriousness and significance of war. The other half treads into screwball comedy territory. First time viewers beware of tonal whiplash. Also, some parts drag a bit like the whole bubbles sequence. But is it likable? Sure. I definitely like it more than most future winners. Off the top of my head I can safely say it's my favorite war themed BP.

Impressions circa 2004
Positive. Wings was one of the very last BP's I saw. After months of patiently waiting for it to be shown on TCM (For Christsakes, it was the first Best Picture winner! I was not reaching for the stars here!!!) I became certain that my only chance of seeing it would be to just buy the damn thing. Not having much cash, I asked for Wings for Christmas instead of something I actually wanted. (Yes, I sacrificed one of my gifts to my BP cause.) This is the copy I own to this day although apparently Wings has finally been released on DVD...and Blu-ray.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Engineering Effects

1927-28 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
  • The Racket
  • Seventh Heaven

What I Learned From...Wings
War is bad, but having a friend there will help you through.

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