Original Oscar winner "Wings" soars again in Hollywood

Wed Jan 18, 2012 6:39pm EST
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By Jordan Riefe

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - While silent movie "The Artist" gathers steam ahead of the Oscars, the only other non-talking picture to win an Academy Award is getting a makeover as Hollywood falls back in love with the early days of cinema.

"Wings," a World War I aerial dogfight epic made in 1927, won the first ever Oscar for best picture. Paramount Pictures, which is celebrating its centenary, has restored the classic silent action film and will present it with live organ accompaniment at the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Wednesday, ahead of a Blu-ray release on January 24th.

William Wellman, a veteran World War I fighter pilot, directed "Wings," giving 1927 audiences a view of the world most had never seen. With cameras affixed to the flimsy bi-planes, a crew of flyers created dogfights featuring death-defying aerial stunts that continue to amaze viewers today.

"The thing about 'Wings' that's so exciting is that it was the 'Avatar' and the 'Star Wars' of its day. It was a state of the art action film," said Academy archivist Randy Haberkamp.

Set in Hollywood during the advent of sound, "The Artist" is not the only new movie focusing on early cinema. Martin Scorsese's 3D family film "Hugo" centers on French film pioneer Georges Melies, and in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" Owen Wilson plays a modern screenwriter time traveling back to the 1920s.

"I think the zeitgeist is the realization that silent films are not a dead art form because true cinema is a very visceral and visually-generated thing," Haberkamp said.

In "Wings," Richard Arlen played David Armstrong, a small-town kid with a taste for speed. Immune to the affection of Mary (Clara Bow), the girl next door, he is smitten by city girl Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). His rival in romance is Jack Powell (Charles Rogers), heir to a fortune.

Volunteering for service, the two men become fast friends through their wartime experience. Early on, they meet Gary Cooper playing a doomed pilot in one of his first screen appearances, a role that catapulted him to stardom.   Continued...