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Wings: A Review

On Saturday I noticed by chance on Facebook that the Astor Theatre was showing a rare print of the 1927 film Wings, starring Clara Bow, with Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, and Richard Arlen. Gary Cooper appears in a role which helped launch his career in Hollywood and also marked the beginning of his affair with Clara Bow. [Wikipedia]

Originally released by Paramount Pictures, the film is a silent action film about World War 1 aviator pilot friends, and as Clara Bow stated, “Wings is … a man's picture and I’m just the whipped cream on top of the pie”. This is unfortunately true, but she is a delicious addition to the recipe.

Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard ArlenIt is the cinematography and aviation scenes that are the real stars in this film however. A number of the cast and crew had all served in WW1 as military aviators, so they were able to draw on this experience in the execution of these scenes. What makes it much more moving and suspenseful than modern films about WW1 is this fact: the war had ended only ten years earlier, and this brings such immediacy and verisimilitude to the action. There is also real footage from WW1 mixed in – creating a strange juxtaposition considering Wings is a fictionalised account. Watching it one is made soberly aware that some of these men are actually dying. 

Albert Conti, Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Richard ArlenCharles ‘Buddy’ Rogers; I was pleased to see some boxing action while the boys were at aviation training

Wings went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Picture, but the film was unfortunately subsequently lost – until it was found in the Cinémathèque Française film archive and was copied from nitrate film to safety film stock. The film was meticulously restored and released by Paramount on DVD in 2012, and the musical score was re-orchestrated.

The sound effects were recreated at Skywalker Sound using archived audio tracks – although of course there was no voice, the sound of motors and engines interspersed through the film added greatly to the dramatic tension created by the score. It is easy too to forget that silent films were not all necessarily purely black and white: Wings was colour tinted in sepia and cyanotype tones, as well as black. The scenes using the Handschiegl color process to give colour to explosions were also recreated for the restored version. [Wikipedia]

Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Clara Bow in the Folies Bergère and some bubble actionWatching the scenes set in Paris was fascinating from a cultural point of view, glimpsing the people in the streets – how they dressed, spoke (or gesticulated animatedly) and behaved – and of course the fashion was especially enjoyable for me. I loved the way Clara Bow wore her scarf: tied in a bow around her neck, and then tucked into her belt. (One to try at home!) And her uniform as an ambulance driver in the war was wonderful – those lace-up knee-high boots were fabulous. There was also a fantastic comic scene involving drunken behaviour and hallucinatory bubbles in the Folies Bergère, where Clara Bow came into her own (watch her shimmy here). And let’s not forget the male nudity, the first scenes where men kissed on screen, and a brief glimpse of Clara Bow’s breasts (which I missed).

Twenties scarf action with Clara Bow in the back yardClara Bow in her ambulance driver’s uniform – check out those boots!On a final note, here’s an interesting piece of trivia: Wings was the only silent movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture – until the experimental film The Artist came along in 2011.

Watch the film on DVD if you can, but it really should be seen on the big screen. Thank you Astor.

Read more here

Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Clara Bow

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