It won Best Picture at the very first Academy Awards, with spectacular airborne sequences and a dramatic story that still mesmerizes audiences today.
Wings (1927), a drama about U.S. aviators in the skies over Europe during World War I, will be shown Wednesday at Red River Theatres. The screening is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, which ended the “Great War” and which led to our modern observance of Veterans Day.
Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person, general admission.
The screening, the latest in Red River’s silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating music for silent films.
The show will allow audiences to experience Wings the way its makers originally intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.
Wings, a blockbuster hit in its original release, recounts the adventures of U.S. pilots flying combat missions behind enemy lines at the height of World War I in Europe. Wings stunned audiences with its aerial dogfight footage, vivid and realistic battle scenes, and dramatic love-triangle plot.
Wings stars Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen. The rarely seen film also marked one of the first screen appearances of Gary Cooper, who plays a supporting role. Directed by William Wellman, Wings was lauded by critics for its gripping story, superb photography and technical innovations.
Wings is notable as one of the first Hollywood films to take audiences directly into battlefield trenches and vividly depict combat action. Aviation buffs will also enjoy Wings, as the film is filled with scenes of vintage aircraft from the early days of flight.
Seen today, the film also allows contemporary audiences a window into the era of World War I, which was underway in Europe a century ago.
“Wings is not only a terrific movie, but seeing it on the big screen is also a great chance to appreciate what earlier generations of servicemen and women endured,” Rapsis said. “It’s a war that has faded somewhat from our collective consciousness, but it defined life in the United States for a big chunk of the 20th century. This film captures how World War I affected the nation, and also shows in detail what it was like to serve one’s country a century ago.”
Rapsis, a composer who specializes in film music, will create a score for Wings on the spot, improvising the music as the movie unfolds to enhance the on-screen action as well as respond to audience reactions. Rapsis performs the music on a digital synthesizer, which is capable of producing a wide range of theater organ and orchestral textures.
“Live music was an integral part of the silent film experience,” Rapsis said. “At the time, most films weren’t released with sheet music or scores. Studios relied on local musicians to come up with an effective score that was different in every theater. At its best, this approach created an energy and a connection that added a great deal to a film’s impact. That’s what I try to recreate.”
Wings is about 2½ hours long. The film is a family-friendly drama but not suitable for very young children due to its length and intense wartime battle scenes.
The screening is being sponsored in part by the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire.
Tickets are $12 for adults, general admission. For more info, go to redrivertheatres.org. or call 224-4600. For more about the music, visit jeffrapsis.com.