March 2015 Blind Spot: WINGS (1927)

Wings1927PosterI was pretty excited to finally watch this movie. I’m not usually into silent films, but this one came highly recommended. The film starts off with a light, whimsical tone in small town America where Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers) is working on his beloved car and dreaming of flying. The girl next door Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with Jack but he is blind to her affections. But he’s not the only one with unrequited love, as Jack is in love with Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston) who actually loves David (Richard Arlen).

Most of the film is about World War I, featuring some impressive aerial scenes as well as some intense ground battles that seem less bloody as the film is shot in black and white. Per IMDb trivia, real soldiers from the army’s 2nd Infantry Division, stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, were used as extras. It’s really astonishing what they’d accomplished here long before CGI was used. Apparently the actors were actually working the planes themselves with a camera strapped to the engine cowling. IMDb trivia also noted that actors had to get the plane up in the air, keep it up, fly it so that clouds or German fighter planes could be seen in the background, operate the (motorized) camera and land the plane and act at the same time. Here’s the scene of the first Dogfight scene:

The story focuses primarily on the relationship between two fighter pilots Jack and David from two different walks of life. What began as a rivalry, as they’re in love with the same woman, turns into a genuine friendship. Despite being from a privileged family, David is really likable and even noble young man. He could’ve easily just told Jack that Sylvia didn’t love him but he couldn’t bring himself to let his friend know that Sylvia only gave Jack the locket with her picture as she felt sorry for him. 

Wings1927_RogersArlenThe most heart-wrenching scene was when David’s dying, as his plane was shot by Jack himself. He had stolen a German plane after his plane crashed, and of course Jack didn’t know it was David piloting it so he kept shooting at it. It’s especially tragic as just before their mission, David had told Jack he had a hunch he wouldn’t be coming home.

Wings1927_DeathbedKissThe film featured the first kiss between two men, but it’s really not as controversial as people might’ve made it out to be. The scene is about a deep, profound friendship between the two men, as well as Jack being overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and sadness. It’s really quite a moving scene, in fact, I couldn’t help tearing up watching it. The scene that followed when Jack had to tell David’s parents is equally heart-wrenching. I think the film succeeds in showing the true brutality of war, not just in the bloody war scenes, but in the scenes where families are crestfallen when they learn their loved ones have perished.

The film is rated PG-13 for the brutal war scenes, as well as a brief scene of nudity as a girl was changing her clothes. I think some of the violence are quite graphic for its day – pilots getting shot and bleeding to death, soldier getting crushed by tank and frequent shots of blood spurting out as people get shot. Surely it’s nothing compared to today’s war films though.

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Now, you can’t review this film without mentioning Gary Cooper. Yes he’s only got a 2-minute cameo but apparently his brief appearance here launched his career. Can’t say I’m surprised, I’m sure both men and women would’ve said ‘Who’s THAT?’ when he came on screen. He’s absolutely striking and even the scene of him just woken up… sleepy eyed, clenched jaw, and messy hair… he’s really quite mesmerizing. It’s fitting as the two characters who shared the scene with him were also captivated by Cooper’s Cadet White. I think he’s the only classic actor who could give even Gregory Peck a run for his money, and undoubtedly the two actors were often compared to each other in terms of looks and acting style. [note to self: watch more Gary Cooper films] 😉

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There are lots of love going on during filming as the Arlen & Ralston got married shortly after filming and Cooper had a longtime affair with silent star Clara Bow. The silent film star was pretty fun to watch with her cherubic face and big, expressive eyes. Her scenes are a bit sentimental, consisting mostly of her crying and fawning over Jack. I thought there’d be more to her character considering miss Bow had been quite famous by the mid 20s. The whole bar scene where she tried to seduce Jack who’s completely wasted is pretty silly, but the scene when they’re alone in the room must’ve been quite risqué for that era, not to mention the brief breast-flashing scene. This was pre-Hayes code as this was released a few years before censorship was enforced starting in 1930.

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Despite the nearly 2.5-hour running time, I wasn’t bored watching it. The cinematography is quite stunning, and the aerial stunts live up to the film’s title! Director William Wellman had about 80+ films to his credit but this is the first film of his I’ve ever seen. Well I might have to check out more of his work now. I also like the music, which is always key in silent films, and I read that the entire score was written and recording using Wurlitzer Pipe Organ. Wings won the first ever Academy Awards and it also won Best Engineering Effects, akin to Best Special Effects in today’s Oscar. I do think it merit both awards, though I think both Rogers and Arlen were good enough to be nominated in the acting category.

Glad I finally saw this one. It’s not perfect as the story is a bit melodramatic at times, in fact, the film tries to incorporate the love-during-wartime story but the romance isn’t as convincing to me. The war aspect certainly works better, but still it’s more emotionally-engaging than I had expected, especially the friendship between the two leading men. I think it’d have looked pretty amazing on the big screen too, given the masterful digital restoration by Paramount to coincide with its 100-year anniversary celebration. You can watch a 15-min video of the restoration on Youtube, the process of cleaning up, fixing all the scratches, tinting, etc. whilst maintaining the level of authenticity of the original art. The restored sound work makes the war scenes felt really suspenseful… sounds of planes flying, bullets spraying, bomb exploding, they definitely adds to the realism of the piece. Wings definitely takes flight, in more ways than one.

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The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee,
and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen WINGS? Well, what did YOU think?

Traveling Through Cinema – Antarctica: A Year On Ice documentary

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I was supposed to see this film a couple of years ago during the Twin Cities Film Festival, but for some reason I couldn’t make it to the screening. The film won Best Documentary from TCFF and rightly so. Well, after finally witnessing this spectacular documentary this weekend, I’m even more gutted I missed it on the big screen. To say that it’s a visual feast is putting it mildly, it’s a surprise my jaw didn’t get stuck on the floor as I was watching it. As I’m not sure if I ever get to visit earth’s Southern Hemisphere in my lifetime, I can always live vicariously through New Zealand’s photographer/filmmaker Anthony B. Powell and his team who spent a year in the icy continent.

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The description on IMDb reads: A visually stunning chronicle of what it is like to live in Antarctica for a full year, including winters isolated from the rest of the world, and enduring months of darkness in the coldest place on Earth. I thought it’d be a typical nature documentary with jaw-droppingly beautiful imagery and some insightful facts about the continent, but what sets this film apart is how affecting and personal the journey is, as told from the perspective of the filmmaker Powell, as well as some of the interviewees who gave us insight into what’s it like working in Antarctica. Ranging from helicopter pilot, fireman, firehouse dispatcher, cook, store clerk, operations manager, etc. they share the psychological perspective of how the extreme weather affect them as a person and how life-altering their experience is. The film takes place in the New Zealand’s Scott Base or United States’ McMurdo Base where most of the crews were stationed at.

Most of the people interviewed seem to have a positive experience, in fact most of them have gone back time and time again, even enduring the Antarctica winter year after year. I said the word endure because that’s a perfect description for it, as one must have a certain endurance power to be able to survive such a harsh condition. It’s interesting that I watch this as Winter is coming to a close, I should’ve watched this in January as it’d make even the harshest Minnesota Winter like a walk in the park! As I was watching the film, it made me wonder if I could survive living in Antarctica. I mean, it’d be a treat to see those adorable penguins up close, but there’s also tragic sights of dying seals who froze to death. Of course there’s the extreme climate itself where four months out of the year you’d be engulfed in complete darkness with temps reaching −89 °C (−129 °F) and even colder windchill. Not to mention the monstrous storms that could freeze anything in sight in a matter of milliseconds.

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The film doesn’t just show the glamorous side of living in Antarctica… the obvious homesickness and missing family members, but there are also times when some of the workers couldn’t even go back home to attend the birth of their sister’s first child or their father’s funeral. On the bright side, Powell himself found love during his time in Antarctica, as the film showed his wedding to Christine Powell who helped him make this film. So there are heart-wrenching and contemplative moments in the film that gives the film an emotional substance on top of just something beautiful to look at. There are also humorous moments, such as when interviewees share about the T3 Syndrome which happens during winter when the T3 hormone in the brain is reassigned to the muscles of the body in an effort to protect it against the extreme cold. You’re probably more familiar w/ the term brain freeze, though most of us probably don’t have their excuse 😉

It took Powell 10 years to make this film, it’s pretty much a passion project for him as he also wrote and produced it, and his wife Christine is credited as second unit director. I’m glad I finally saw this film, if I were to rate it I’d give it a 4.5/5 reels. Featuring plenty of amazing time-lapse photography, it’s one of the most stunning film you’ve ever seen that’s also thought-provoking and inspiring. One of the few female interviewees, who happens to be from rural Minnesota, remarked that many nations get along better in Antarctica than any other parts in the world, now that should also gives you something to ponder. Highly recommended.

Check out the trailer:


With this post, I’m relaunching the Traveling Thru Cinema series that
I launched two years ago
with In Bruges

I hope to keep up with this series at least every other month from now on.


Have you seen this documentary? If so, what did you think?