Saturday, October 09, 2010

Wings (cinema concert, closing event)

(Paramount Famous Lasky Corp., US 1927) D: William A. Wellman; pres: Adolph Zukor, Jesse Lasky; P: Lucien Hubbard; assoc. prod: B. P. Schulberg; story: John Monk Saunders; SC: Hope Loring, Louis D. Lighton; story consultant: Robert Nichols; scen. editor: E. Lloyd Sheldon; ED: Merrill White, Tommy Scott; titles: Julian Johnson; DP: Harry Perry; ph. effects: Paul Perry; addl. ph: Burton Steene, Horace D. Ashton, Cliff Blackston, Russell Harlan, Bert Baldridge, Frank Cotner, Faxon M. Dean, Ray Hubbard, Ray Olsen, L. Guy Wilky, Herman Schoop, Al Lane, William Clothier, Ernest Laszlo, Alfred Williams, L. B. Abbott, Eddie Adams, Al Myers, Gene O’Donnell; asst. dir: Dick Johnson, Charles Barton; prod. mgr: Frank Blount; engineering effects: Roy Pomeroy (Magnascope & sound effects); gag man & anim: Norman Z. McLeod; cast: Clara Bow (Mary Preston), Charles “Buddy” Rogers ( Jack Powell), Richard Arlen (David Armstrong), Jobyna Ralston (Sylvia Lewis), Gary Cooper (Cadet White), Arlette Marchal (Celeste), El Brendel (Patrick O’Brien), Gunboat Smith (The Sergeant), Richard Tucker (Air commander), Julia Swayne Gordon (Mrs. Armstrong), Henry B. Walthall (Mr. Armstrong), George Irving (Mr. Powell), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Powell), Margery Chapin [Wellman] (Peasant mother), Gloria Wellman (Peasant child), Charles Barton (Soldier hit by ambulance), William Wellman (Dying doughboy in final advance), Roscoe Karns (Lt. Cameron), Frank Clarke (Kapitan Kellerman), Dick Grace, Rod Rogers, Bill Taylor, Paul Mantz, Hoyt Vandenburg, Hal George, Frank Andrews, Clarence Irvine, Earl E. Partridge, S.R. Stribling (pilots); première: 12.8.1927 (Criterion, New York City); 12,493 ft., 139 min (24 fps); source: Photoplay Productions, London.
Score by Carl Davis; performed by Orchestra Mitteleuropea; conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald.
Score commissioned by Photoplay Productions for Channel Four; performed by arrangement with Faber Music London Ltd. on behalf of Carl Davis.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian, 9 Oct 2010

KEVIN BROWNLOW in the GCM Catalogue: "Written by one pilot and directed by another, Wings caught the excitement over aviation at its peak – Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic in May 1927. Wellman gave the flying scenes an epic grandeur – he refused to stage them in the safety of the studio, and sent his actors up in charge of experienced pilots. (Richard Arlen had flown with the Royal Canadian Flying Corps, but Buddy Rogers knew nothing about planes.) When conditions were right, the pilots ducked out of sight, the actors triggered remote-control cameras, and, as Buddy Rogers put it, “I was director, cameraman – everything…for four hundred feet, that is.”
Harry Perry was director of photography, commanding a vast crew of cameramen. High angles for battle scenes were taken from a hundredfoot tower, and the ground was churned up by artillery fire. The U.S. Army’s 2nd Division, which had taken part in the original drive, was used for the Big Push at the location outside San Antonio, Texas. Several of the pilots became generals in World War II. One pilot was killed. “We thought that would stop the picture,” said Lucien Hubbard, “but the operation officer said, ‘We don’t think anything of it. Guys are always killed in training…’ ” Wellman, the only Paramount director who had fought as a pilot in the war, also fought the front office for such essential visual effects as clouds for the dogfights – “You get no sense of speed because there’s nothing that’s parallel. The clouds give you that, but against a blue sky, it’s like a lot of goddam flies!” The weeks he spent waiting for clouds cost Paramount a fortune. But the picture was a smash hit. “When the director was not working on the picture,” reported Motion Picture Magazine (September 1927), “he and the producer were settling the differences that arose because of army politics, soothing over jealousies between different branches of the service, pacifying the impatient troops with barrels of beer and motion picture entertainments, giving the aviators dinners and dances and conciliating fuming officers with a diplomacy that would have avoided the World War.” On top of which, the crew making Victor Fleming’s Paramount epic, The Rough Riders, hit town – every man hoping for a date with Clara Bow.
Wings gets better the older it becomes. Scenes that once seemed naïve and overly sentimental now seem an integral part of their time. Clara Bow plays Mary, the girl next door who loves Jack and his home-made car. At training school, Jack fights with Dick, soon to be his closest comrade. (They play in a scene with Gary Cooper.) They go to France. Mary has volunteered and is also at the front as an ambulance driver. The two boys are decorated and are given leave. At last – Paris! Mary, also in Paris, finds Jack, intoxicated, in the arms of another girl. She wins him back, only to be arrested and sent home by the military police. Orders come to return to base. The Big Push. Dick is shot down and captured. He escapes in a German plane and Jack shoots him down. Jack lands in front of a military cemetery and steps out of his plane in front of thousands of white crosses, unaware that his closest friend lies dying.
Apart from this pacifist touch, it is “the road to glory” and “the bravest of the brave” that figure in the titles. Wellman hurls his camera around the vast battlefield with exhilarating abandon. Even by today’s standards, his setups seem remarkably bold. His epic handling of the Battle of St.-Mihiel is overwhelming, and the superimposition of thousands of men marching into a horizon where their destruction is pictured in split-screen, is a moment worthy of Abel Gance’s J’accuse (1919).
Apart from regular tinting (which we reproduced in our new copy in accordance with a surviving continuity), in original prints when planes caught fire, you saw red flames, and for the big scenes the screen expanded to the full size of the proscenium, thanks to Magnascope. In 1928, the film was equipped with the sound effects of airplane motors and machine-gun fire.
Wings may have won the the Academy’s first award for “outstanding production” (pre-dating the “Best Picture” category), but the War Department was furious at how much their co-operation had cost. “A good brisk war,” they said, “would be preferable to another movie.” Producer Howard Hughes watched Wings continually before making the next aviation epic, Hell’s Angels (1930). – KEVIN BROWNLOW."

Revisited a familiar film in the beautiful restored and toned Photoplay print with the magnificent Carl Davis score. The conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald and Orchestra Mitteleuropea at the strength of some 65 musicians did a marvellous job with the music performance. I agree with Kevin Brownlow that this film keeps getting better. The naive and stereotypical aspects are easier to ignore, and it is easier to focus on the strengths of this film. The Gary Cooper vignette is more powerful to us than to the contemporary audience to whom he was still an unknown. The devastating turning-point is Jack killing David who is trying to escape from the German airspace on a German airplane. Wings is still one of the great films about the air force.

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