Sunday, June 6, 2010

1929: Wings

So I wanted to get a good start on my Oscar Project by sitting down to watch Wings. It didn't turn out to be that easy. It turns out that it's a tough movie to watch, so I watched it in 20-30 minute chunks, stopping throughout to type a bit. So this "review" is a bit more of a play-by-play. I understand that much of it won't make sense to you, the reader, if you haven't seen the movie.

As of this moment, I have only watched the first five minutes of Wings. I already have the idea that it's going to be a rough couple of hours, so I'm going to divide up this movie into parts.

While I like to make fun of students who have no interest in black & white, I still find my own problems with silent movies. Yes, there are some that I like quite a bit. But most of those star Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Of course I understand that movies like Wings weren't silent just because they wanted to be. But a dramatic movie is more difficult to watch. I think it's the over the top facial expressions and hand gestures that get to me. It works when it's a comedy. I don't dig it when it's a drama.

In this first scene, a girl is trying to get the attention of a boy working on a car. He doesn't notice her. She's sad. She looks like she just saw her dog get run over by a lawnmower.

All right. Enough whining. I'm ready for more.

The next scene worked for me. There's a guy who wants to fight in the war, but the officer notices his German name. The guy shows him his American flag tattoo and mugs triumphantly. It worked silently.

Apparently when David was a child, he loved a Teddy Bear refrigerator magnet. Seriously, it's the tiniest Teddy Bear ever.  And then he kisses his mother rather awkwardly. Or, rather passionately.


We got some physical comedy from flag tattoo guy. He's  vaudeville actor named El Brendel, and I hope we see more of him throughout the movie. Also in this scene we learned the age old truth. The best way to make friends is to beat the shit out of each other.

Gary Cooper has arrived to eat chocolate, fly figure eights before chow, and validate Teddy Bears. We quickly learn that he only does two of these things well. Perhaps he should have tried figure infinities or something more horizontal. Wait - make that one. The chocolate has also gone uneaten.

In silent movies, the characters can't hear anything either. You must wake up people one at a time by shaking them.

All right. We finally got some flying action here. These are actual planes performing these stunts, so it feels quite pure. I dislike the quick and close up edits we get today, so I like a shot that actually shows something.

I'm no lip reading expert, but I'm pretty sure that David mouths "Son of a bitch" when he plane gets hit. And soon after we're told that Jack has "two Fokkers on his tail. I think Jack was taught to land by Gary Cooper.

There was some decent action that actually kept me focused for awhile. Then around the halfway point of the movie, there's a cool shot in a night club. The camera slowly rolls over the top of several different tables showing different couples in a quick 2-3 second pantomime, including one woman throwing her drink in the face of the other person. It ends at our hero's table as he is being poured a drink. It works nicely, and is immediately followed with a bizarre scene about bubbles. It's something different, and it has given the movie something different. So I guess that's good.

We moved on to more action. The movie is moving along at a much better pace now. The dramatic scenes have been short and to the point. They are much more tolerable than the opening scene, and because they were much quicker, they worked much better. I'm pretty sure that Jack just mouthed, "Bastards," so I think they're actually saying a lot of things that we don't know they're saying. 

The way the story is ending is actually pretty decent. It's a Shakespearean tragedy, and all the parts have been put into place. The death scene is a little... gay. I mean their talking about getting Heinies and kissing each other. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So I think the movie makers had created a decent story with the love triangle, but decided for some reason to add another part. Instead of a love square, it became more of a love trapezoid. the Mary Preston character didn't add anything other than 20 minutes of screen time, and allowed for a "nice" ending. And in the end, the movie was at least 20 minutes too long, so I would her to make it more palatable.

I was reminded quite a bit of Pearl Harbor while watching this. And for those younger readers, that's not a good thing. In doing a bit of research, I discovered that this movie actually didn't win "Best Picture." It won "Best Production." The award changed names a couple years later, as did the idea for what it should be. For Best Production, they wanted to give the award to the biggest movie, not necessarily the best. Because of the war scenes, and especially the dog fights (airplane, not Vick), it was a "big" movie. That's the same philosophy that the makers of Pearl Harbor had, and it didn't work then. The difference is that movie making changed quite a bit over 70 years. Wings didn't have that excuse.

So here's my summary. The movie is too long. It definitely gets better in the second half. I think breaking it into parts was very helpful, as it wasn't really great enough to hold my attention for too long. Watch if you are an Oscar completest, but otherwise skip it.

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