Wings is a silent film from 1927 and was the first film to win the award which we now know as ‘Best Picture’ at the Oscars. Watching this film reveals technical marvels of silent film which you might not have realised existed. We think of silent film as outdated and corny and probably expect it to be pretty lame, but Wings has just enough of the expected cliche and quaint melodrama to draw you in, followed up a rather tragic and exciting turn near the end, to make it a great watch.
The beauty of silent film, as exemplified not only in Wings but also by silent classics such as Metropolis and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, is the astounding attention to detail. With no diegetic sound (ie sound which comes from within the film world, rather than outside it), we are not bogged down by the need to advance the story through people to people interactions and talking. The title cards do this for us. The filmmakers primary focus is on pictures and images rather than story-telling. In watching Wings, the result for me felt like reading a picture-book or even a comic. I felt like I was actively reading rather than passively watching. Watching Wings makes you realise that film is, first and foremost, a visual medium.
As mentioned, the technical aspects are something else. This film was made well before the appearance of commercial airliners, and images of cloud-tops would have been a rarity and a true treat way back in the 20s. How on earth did they film the air fights? How did they have the gall to organise all of those epic war scenes? The way they overlaid multiple pictures at once…and just look at the colours! This film is a true technical masterpiece and checking it out will no doubt whet your appetite for more.
And just as a coda to this – isn’t it crazy how attitudes change? Perhaps it’s my liberal upbringing informing this assumption, but as history moves forward shouldn’t we expect society to open up and be more tolerant? What I’m driving at here is the passionate kiss between the two leading men near the end of the film – you sure couldn’t see that in Hollywood today unless you were making some kind of statement.