Monday, July 28, 2008
To begin--Wings is not a great film.
Gore Vidal once described the famous film Ben-Hur as "gorgeously trashy" and this rather glib characterization can easily apply here to the first Best Picture Winner. It's easy to see why audiences in 1927 loved this movie. All the elements that make for commercial success are present: frequent and high-flying (pardon the pun) action scenes, a love triangle, an upbeat, optimistic (albeit excessively so) attitude throughout, and a kind of romantic melodrama which appears supremely dated in these days of uber-realism and skeptism.
Wings would never be made now. Having been inundated with numerous examples of the harsh reality of war, no one would believe the kind of glossy, saccharine portayal of armed combat the film sets forth. Nor would anyone buy the campy mannerisms and over-theatrical acting, while although common to the period, would seem hokey in this day and age. A modern audience would have difficult suspending their disbelief long enough to take much of this film seriously.
Director William Wexler's inventive camera shots and overall shot composition provides just enough "art" to satisfy the purists, but even these don't detract from the film's numerous flaws. Namely, the intertitles, which are so patently ridiculous and overwrought that they seem written by the author of a 1950's hygiene film. Second, and perhaps most objectionable is the portrayal of a bumbling, buffoonish Dutch immigrant, whose ineptitude and goofy demeanor is played for laughs. His awkward, halting English and over-the-top silliness would not play for laughs in these days.
Which leads me to my next point. We often have a tendency to lionize the past, thinking that the pasts provides a kind of quality, artistic faithfulness, and overall integrity that does not exist in our times. This is a myth. The past provided just as many examples of, at best, shoddily crafted product masquerading as art as it does now. Wings is, first and foremost, a popcorn film, and think of how often in these times the Best Picture statute is rewarded not towards quality, but as a nod toward films which attain massive popularity and rake in money hand over fist at the box office. That's never changed one iota.