1928: Wings

(Originally published January 26, 2010)

A friend of mine was able to locate a copy of the first Academy Award Best Picture winner, but now I know why it was so difficult to come by: it is a silent film.

Some interesting observations about silent films:

1. You had to be able to read to understand what was happening, unless someone in the theater narrated live.

2. The actors still moved their mouths during the action, but there is no audio except background music (this was probably the most annoying). If you can read lips, you have a big advantage.

Wings is a World War I drama about two young men who join the American army with big dreams to become aviators. At the background is a love triangle involving these two men, a rich girl, and the girl next door back home. While the men are away at war, they end up becoming good friends though they both secretly assume that the rich girl is in love with him. The girl next door also joins the military as a nurse/driver. War being what it is, each man achieves his dream of becoming an aviator and they both even win medals for taking out the big German bomber, but one of them doesn’t make it back.

As an American history buff, I found this film really interesting for a couple of reasons. By the time the film was made, its subject, World War 1, was history by about 15 years. World War 1 is still history to me now, but so is the actual film. I was watching historical historical fiction.

Historically speaking, it took me a long time to finally understand why World War 1 even happened. It was like a grotesque comedy of alliances. Somebody shot the archduke of somewhere and when war was declared, it turned out that everybody was allied to everyone else so even if your country didn’t personally care about the archduke of wherever, you were connected by six degrees of separation and you fought to be patriotic.

The action scenes in this film, crude as they may be, do an excellent job of portraying the brutal combination of civil war trench-fighting tactics and more modern technology like airplanes and bombs. The acting is decent and despite the silence, the audience is still able to connect with the characters emotionally.

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