For my 2017/18 writing project, I am watching, ranking, and reviewing every film to win The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar for Best Picture. Below, is my review for the 1929 winner, "Wings."
The first film to ever win an Oscar for Best Picture was "Wings." It won the prize in 1929 and stands as an expression of a lost art form; something lost to technology. While I haven't seen a lot of silent films, I know they require a great deal of artistic expression on behalf of the actors. Those who starred in these pictures weren't able to move us with their words or infliction. They were handicapped and handcuffed to their movements, gestures, and interactions with their fellow actors. While I wouldn't go back to the days of life without sound in the cinema, I do believe something has been lost.
This movie makes you fall in love with acting in its purest form. The dialogue appearing on screen is secondary to the actions and movements before you. These interactions are the moments that matter. As your ears become secondary, your other senses take over and open your world to a whole new view of expression. Here, you rediscover something you forgot but was there all along. Non-verbal communication matters. How we carry ourselves matters. How we occupy space matters. The emphasis we place on the words we say matters. These things are of the utmost importance to the receiver and audience. This basic form of acting matters and shouldn't be forgotten.
Yet, this film isn't without music throughout. In fact, it can be found through the entirety of the film. From beginning to end, it makes itself known. Honestly, given all of the movies I have seen, it is the first time I can recall such a feat. It rises and soars with each and every scene. It also reminds of you two very important facts: a score can make or break a film and there is something to be said for silence. In the world of today, we have become accustomed to constant noise. This is why some of my favorite films concentrate on being as quiet as possible. "Wings" isn't one of those films, but makes me appreciate them even more.
As I watched this film, I couldn't help but think of all the Oscar winners I have seen including last year's film, "Spotlight." For those who laid the groundwork for modern day cinema, I wonder if they could even fathom the films that make it to the theaters today. I wonder if they knew film could inform the public about the sexual molestation scandal inside of the Catholic Church. What amazes me is how far movies have come since 1929 and how much things have stayed the same. Movies are still about characters and stories. We go for the same reasons too. We go to be challenged, laugh, cry, and/or a break from the real world. Surely, the founders of modern day cinema knew we would still be clamoring for an escape.
Finally, this movie made me think about World War I. Cinema has done a tremendous job of documenting the second great war, but the drama of our planet's first great conflict is often overlooked. This film does its best to introduce us to some themes that would become common in all war movies: kids off fighting in a war, loss of life, bravery, heroism, and returning home. These aren't new concepts and they began long before "Wings," but this film is the first to be recognized for it. For that, it deserves our respect even if the sounds of time have been unkind.
Be good to each other,