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Director William A. Wellman’s masterpiece is the first film to win the Academy Award® for Best Picture. Featuring a meticulous restoration and a newly recorded soundtrack based on the original score, Wings comes to Blu-ray for the very first time. This timeless story of love and loss follows two men who go to war and the girl they leave behind. Popular Twenties “It” girl Clara Bow stars in this unforgettable World War I epic alongside Richard Arlen, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and the legendary Gary Cooper in a cameo appearance. The aerial battle sequences still rank among the best in motion picture history.
- Restoring the Power and Beauty of Wings
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I believe that anyone and everyone who has purchased any home video discs for their personal enjoyment should buy this one too - and as soon as possible. This film truly demonstrates Hollywood at its best and shows clearly why Hollywood films matter so much to us. I think WINGS would be the cornerstone of any home movie library.
The story is superb, the directing is superb, the acting is superb, and the aerial scenes - well, they are BY FAR the best and most exciting ever done in the entire history of the movies and they are the best that ever WILL be done. They have never been duplicated nor will they ever be. Why do I make such definitive statements about the flying sequences? Because the flying sequences in WINGS are all real - repeat: ALL REAL! And they sure look it! NO "trickery" can duplicate "real!" Please see below for further details.
I first saw the film in 1969 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY during the fifth Cinecon (Cinecon is still going strong). We were told that this was the first public showing of the complete film in almost forty years (clips have been used in other Paramount Films, most notably during the beginning of The War of the Worlds (Special Collector's Edition)).
Two years later, WINGS was shown at the Paramount Theater in New York City. I still have the original LIFE Magazine review of that showing. (The lines to get in went around the block!)
In 1985 Paramount released a LaserDisc edition as well as a VHS tape. Until now, these two versions were the only officially authorized home video releases of WINGS, at least in the U.S.A. These editions featured a beautiful organ score newly composed by that master of silent film accompaniment, the late, great Gaylord Carter. Though originally WINGS was shown in tinted prints, this LaserDisc edition was in black-and-white only and, like all prints I had seen until now, it was made from the print which survived in the Cinémathèque Française.
In 2002-3, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ("AMPAS") had a retrospective of all Best Picture winners up to that time. The program began with the second winner THE BROADWAY MELODY. AMPAS saved WINGS for last; it was shown two nights - May 15 and May 16, 2003. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater (cap. 1012) was sold out both nights. I know. My wife and I were there, having flown to Los Angeles especially for this showing - and we attended BOTH nights! (Note: WINGS did not actually win for Best Picture; that category was not instituted by the Academy until several years later. SUNRISE won for Best Artistic Achievement; WINGS won for Best Production.)
This showing was of what was called a 'partially-restored' print; some tinting was in evidence, but not as much as that for which I had hoped. However it was the first time I had ever seen the film with any of its tints present. (None of the Handschiegl color process effects - see below - had been restored at that time.) This print too was derived from that Cinémathèque Française print and was essentially a fifth-generation print. However, the music (and the recreated 1927 sound effects) played, with a live orchestra, was the original music which had been used at the first showings of the film. Gillian Anderson, a wonderful musicologist, had recreated the score (which had been arranged by J. S. Zamecnik, using some fairly well-known classical and popular music) and she conducted the orchestra. I had not thought that anything could match Gaylord Carter's score, but this one did, at least in my opinion. (Adrian Johnston had recreated the sound effects; they were so good that it was possible to distinguish the German airplane engines from the 'American' ones.)
Recently, on September 6, 2011, the AMPAS had a special program featuring the newly-restored COLOR print of Georges Méliès' A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902). What a fantastic restoration!! (I am anxiously awaiting the release of this movie on home video; it has been announced by Flicker Alley - I have already ordered a copy - for release sometime in March 2012 [Amazon is now offering it here: A Trip to the Moon Restored [Blu-ray]). You can see a couple of very short clips from this new restoration in the movie "Hugo" [see it in 3D if possible].) My wife and I attended that program and, afterwards, I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Tom Burton, head of the preservation department at Technicolor Los Angeles, who had been in charge of that color restoration project. He told me about the forthcoming release of this new Blu-ray (and DVD) edition of WINGS, of which he was also in charge.
Mr. Burton told me that he and his team, working with the original tinting requirements (which miraculously survive in the Paramount library), would reproduce ALL of the original tints, including the Handschiegl color process effects (a stencil process used for machine-gun fire and flames from shot-down airplanes), and that this edition will look better than anything seen since WINGS' first release. He also told me (and these are his exact words) that I will be "blown away by the sound track."
He was right! On both counts!
The new Blu-ray and DVD will not feature Ms. Anderson's music reconstruction, however. J. S. Zamecnik's original 1927 score has been re-orchestrated and arranged by Dominik Hauser, another musicologist, along with some piano filler played by Frederick Hodges. In 1927, sound effects (machine guns, airplane engines, etc.) were performed behind the screen. Ben Burtt, a noted (and superb) sound engineer has recreated and augmented these effects for the new restoration.
In addition, Gaylord Carter's score will be present on a second audio track (and this is very welcome). When one watches this track, note that the timings are different; this is due to the fact that this track begins immediately with the movie rather than, as on the first track, with the various Paramount logo montage (very beautiful, by the way) and does not include the intermission or the end restoration credits. As far as I can determine, you cannot switch between the audio tracks (at least on the Blu-ray); when you start Play, you must select one 'version' or the other.
This film is being released as the first title in Paramount's 100th Anniversary retrospective and it is one of the 'crown jewels' in Paramount's oeuvre. Paramount has tried its best to ensure top quality for this restoration (Paramount claims the film has been restored frame-by-frame!) and, in my opinion, they have succeeded.
I ordered my copy on November 15, 2011 immediately upon reading Paramount's press release (obviously sight unseen). This new edition, which I watched in its entirety last night [January 24, 2012] has been at least partially created from a duplicate negative, made from an original then-surviving nitrate print, back in the 1950s, an element not used previously (the original negative and all original nitrate prints are long-gone). In all versions I have seen prior to this one, certain scenes appear badly 'washed out' - this is due to fact that all of them have been derived from a print - and a print is NOT a negative (hence the best that can be derived from such a source is a fourth generation print, and that is if no additional work is done - not the case here). Most of these scenes have been at least somewhat corrected for this new restoration but in the scene near the end of the film where "Buddy" Rogers is reading a letter sent to Richard Arlen, there are open areas (where the building was evidently bombed out) in which you can see what's going on outside; this small portion of the scene is still badly 'washed out' and the out-of-the-building view only comes into sharp relief when the scene fades out. But that's the only truly noticeable 'washed out' scene and, as the 'washed-out' portion is only a small part of the background, it does not mar the actual scene in any way. (See below for two other unfortunate but "unfixable" flaws.)
There is at least one 'cut' in all versions I have seen previously: I have been told that Clara Bow's topless scene has had several seconds removed. These frames supposedly exist (in the print owned by the Library of Congress and possibly some other sources). From what I can see in this new edition, the scene looks to be complete but I'll have to check further with some knowledgeable people. [See March 15, 2012 Update below.] (Not that it matters, but Clara Bow is extremely easy on the eyes! Though her role is relatively small [and, in reality, unimportant], she was cast in this film as box-office insurance. And, as in ALL of her films, her acting is superlative - there is no other word for it. Watch her eyes: they're with what she acted and, in my opinion, she was one of the very finest actresses ever to have made movies.)
If you are unfamiliar with WINGS' plot, you could call it simple Hollywood Hokum - but, if it is, well, it's Hollywood Hokum at its very best, due to the superior and sincere acting of ALL of the cast, the magnificence of the cinematography, as well as the exemplary direction of William Wellman. [If you want to read a good book about this film and its director, I highly recommend The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture written by William Wellman, Jr., his son (whom I had the great pleasure of meeting a couple of years ago).] Basically, the story is about two men in love with the same woman - but of course she loves only one of the men. Naturally there is another woman, the 'girl next door' in love with the man the first woman does not love - but he does not realize that he really loves her instead. When the United States enters WWI, both men join the Army Air Corps, the 'girl next door' joins the Women's Motor Corps, they're all sent 'over there' and --- well, I'll let you guess the rest.
Spectacular - and I mean SPECTACULAR - aerial 'dogfight' scenes and some absolutely splendid direction and cinematography (including the first, to my knowledge, big 'moving-boom' scene ever done in the movies) make this a film not only memorable but eminently re-watchable (I myself have seen the film over 100 times - and that's no exaggeration!).
When you see the two leading men, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen, up in the air, they REALLY are up in the air! There are no - repeat NO - rear projection or other cinema 'tricks' being used. Both men learned to fly those planes (made of wood and fabric!) and they not only flew them (during their close-up scenes only, of course), they also had to turn on the battery-powered electric camera mounted on the airplane in front of them - and then they had to act while flying the plane! (Read their lips and you'll see some 'interesting' language!) They each logged about 100 flying hours during the making of this film.
Most of the formation flying seen was done by U.S. Army pilots (the Army contributed vast amounts of men and matériel without which the film could not have been made).
But the other pilots you see up with them in close-ups were Hollywood stunt pilots and they too were actually flying their planes during the filming (obviously!). All of the spectacular flying maneuvers were done by these men (the Army pilots could not have done them, nor were the Army pilots crazy enough to try!). These stunt pilots were some of the very best pilots who have ever lived. What they do in this movie is nothing short of amazing - and they too had to film their own close-up scenes while performing maneuvers which will literally make your jaw drop! For example, one stunt pilot sends his plane into a spiral dive, something which is particularly dangerous. And not only do you see this spiral dive in distant shots, you see it as he, playing "dead," is actually filming himself! There is no doubt about it - he is in a spiral dive! No one in his or her right mind would try this today in one of these old, unstable, and fragile biplanes - but THIS pilot did it for the film and you can see it!
Do you think you'll see anything like this again in another movie? Put that thought right out of your head! This sort of thing has never been - and will never be - done again; insurance companies would NEVER allow it. But this is why the flying scenes in WINGS look absolutely real - they are!
Frankly, WINGS is a terrific audience pleaser. It's an action/adventure movie which also appeals to women and it's a love story which also appeals to men. In over forty years of watching this film and showing it to many, many friends and acquaintances, I have met only one couple who did not enjoy it (they claim that they do not like 'older' films).
This restoration is not 'perfect' - I think that there will never be a 'perfect' restoration of WINGS. Time and, I'm saddened to say, neglect have taken their toll. Essentially, what we are seeing here is a fifth generation print, like that which I saw in 2003. (It may even be further down the chain.) Thus there is an excessive amount of grain present which would have NEVER been seen in 1927, except possibly in the Magnascope sequence; Magnascope was a process in which the screen enlarged to four times its area - twice as wide and twice as high; it surely must have been something to see! Only a very few theaters could accommodate it (see below). This grain is very noticeable on the Blu-ray and I suspect that it will even be very noticeable on the DVD (I have not yet seen the DVD version). However, you will pay attention to it ONLY if you are critically looking for it. (Please note that, having seen this movie as many times as I have, I am quite familiar with it and, frankly, I WAS deliberately looking for flaws in the restoration so I could note them in this review. I can easily see the grain; now that you have been alerted, you may too if you choose to concentrate on it [it is very evident in some scenes, not so much in others, but it is always there] but I want to EMPHASIZE: it does NOT spoil the enjoyment. When you're watching the film for sheer pleasure, it will be easy to ignore.)
Also, while there are some scenes filmed deliberately out-of-focus (some may think that's a flaw but it is not), there is at least one scene which looks slightly 'soft' - that is the scene in which El Brendel becomes nauseated and runs to an ambulance truck. I have never spotted this 'softness' before and it may be noticeable on the Blu-ray only because the Blu-ray is so sharp.
As Tom Burton states in one of the supplements, we may never again see WINGS as it was on Day 1 in 1927.
But this version is VERY close, probably as close as we'll get in any of our lifetimes: if you want an example, you need watch only from timing 00:38:00 to 00:50:45. This 12 minute sequence alone will clearly demonstrate the greatness of the film and the greatness of the restoration. By the way, the Magnascope sequence would have occurred at 00:41:34 to 00:42:25, less than one minute in length. (These timings are for the first video track which contains the new music score and sound effects. The timings are different on the track which contains Gaylord Carter's score.) You will see two intertitles ("On the high sea of heaven" and "The enemy!") which are one-fourth the normal size. These titles would have appeared normal size when shown with Magnascope. Unfortunately, that process will probably never be seen again. Even in the late '20s, only a very few theaters had the capability of accommodating it.
The tinting, unlike that on some other prints I have seen on home video, is near perfect; the colors are not overblown and do not reduce sharpness in the image. They only enhance the viewing experience (as they did in 1927).
And none - I repeat, NONE - of any visual flaws present (and they are all minor) spoils the enjoyment of the film, not even in the smallest way. Most people will not even notice them. Let me emphasize: any flaws present are ALL minor.
As for the sound, it's spectacular. Is it authentic? Definitely not. Being that the sound effects in 1927 were performed "live" behind the screen, they would, of necessity, have been much more spare (as they were when I saw the film in 2003). And they certainly would not have been DTS stereo surround! However, we are not watching this film in 1927 - we are watching it today and Ben Burtt wanted to accommodate the sensibilities of today's audiences; I think he has succeeded admirably. Wait until you hear it (hopefully with the volume cranked up!). I also think that if they had had the capability back in 1927, those early sound engineers would have designed the sound similarly to the way Mr. Burtt has done. (As I mentioned, Tom Burton told be that I would be "blown away" by the soundtrack: I was!)
The sound effects are used only on the first track; the second track, with Gaylord Carter's score, has just the organ music (and it sounds beautiful). So if for some reason the sound effects are not to your liking, you can always view the film with the organ score alone.
The three supplements included on the Blu-ray (only one is included on the DVD and it turns out that that's a shame) are all very worthwhile and interesting (unlike most supplements on discs), though I wish someone had discussed the Magnascope process in some detail. Seeing A. C. Lyles in the supplements is always a particular joy for my wife and me. I wish the producers had allowed him to speak at greater length. He knows more about this film (and Paramount Pictures) than any other living person.
Do I have any "druthers?" Yes. I wish Paramount had given this disc a deluxe packaging treatment (if you want to see great packaging for a Blu-ray/DVD edition, you need only look at certain of the Warner Home Video presentations). They should have made the DVD a 2-disc set so that they could have included all three of the supplements. Paramount does not even include a leaflet, much less a booklet, about the film and I think that such packaging (and printed information) should be standard for significant motion pictures such as this one released to home video. As this is the first disc in their 100th Anniversary Retrospective, I wish Paramount had designed a uniform type of packaging so that purchasers could buy a complete matched set. Wouldn't THAT have been something?
I understand that Paramount, Amazon, and even Netflix seriously underestimated the demand for this film and they are now scrambling to replenish their stock. I'm not surprised; whenever WINGS has played anywhere, it's almost always a sell-out (as it was last week at the Academy, and as it was in 2003 - both nights - when my wife and I attended, and as it was in New York when we saw it a couple of years later).
So, to sum up, I strongly recommend that ANYONE and EVERYONE who has even the slightest interest in movies (and who has the financial resources to do so) buy this disc - and buy it soon (either the Blu-ray or the DVD). You'll thank me for my recommendation. And at Amazon's price, I feel that it is truly a bargain.
Thank you for reading my very lengthy comments. I apologize for the length but I hope that you found them to be somewhat interesting and I truly hope that everything I have written is accurate (if you find any errors of fact, please let me know in a comment).
(As a personal aside, I wish that Sam Rubin had lived to see this restoration.)
And if you do buy this new edition of Wings [Blu-ray] (or the DVD edition: Wings), I hope you enjoy the film as much as I do.
Update: March 15, 2012
The following is just an FYI:
As of this writing, my wife and I are attending the CINEFEST 32 in Liverpool, NY and I have spoken with some VERY knowledgeable people (including two people who were involved with preserving and restoring WINGS). These people have informed me that, as I suspected, this edition is NOT 'frame-complete.' Several seconds of Clara Bow's topless scene are not in this print nor are a couple of seconds of the male nudity. I understand that a Chinese "bootleg" DVD DOES have Clara Bow's entire nude scene but, of course, that DVD will not be of a restored print (and is B&W only, not the way this film should be seen).
It's a pity that Paramount did not choose to make this restoration 'frame-complete' (I have been told several different reasons for the decision but I do not know which reason, if any, is correct).
However, and it's a VERY BIG however, the fact is that these few seconds, which do not contribute to the story in any way, are missing do NOT - repeat DO NOT! - detract from the enjoyment of this film by adults and the fact that they are missing may make the film more appropriate for today's children.
While I personally would have wished that EVERY FRAME shown in 1927 had been included, I continue to HIGHLY (as highly as possible) value this restoration and release and I STRONGLY recommend this Blu-ray or DVD to anyone and everyone.
Thank you again for reading all of this and for considering my opinions.
Lawrence H. Bulk
I yet have to see this movie on the big screen.
Film scholar Scott Eyman in his 1997 book The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926–1930 says: "Ironically, a mass-market silent spectacular like William Wellman's Wings effortlessly showcases far more visual variety than mainstream American films have offered since: it displays shifts from brutal realism to nonrealistic techniques associated with Soviet avant-garde or impressionistic French cinema - double exposures, subjective point-of-view shots, trick effects, symbolic illustrations on the titles, and so on."
I couldn't have said it better.
While we're in 1927: this was another watershed year for the movies. See: It (w/ Clara Bow again), Metropolis, My Best Girl (Pickford), Napoléon, Seventh Heaven, Sunrise (which one the other Best movie Oscar for Best Artistic Achievement.
Wellman is one of Hollywood's great directors in every genre. Thanks to this blu-ray I have seen another masterpiece my this singular artist.
Five stars and a whole lot more!
But if you are wondering to upgrade to this blu ray of WINGS, the answer is definately YES!!! This is one awesome release!
Don't forget to crank up the surround sound!
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