Paramount Pictures is marking its 100th anniversary with a magnificent presentation of William Wellman’s 1927 “Wings” on Blu-ray, featuring a digitally restored image and a thundering DTS soundtrack that includes a re-recording of the original score by J.S. Zamecnik and sound effects supervised by Ben Burtt, of “Star Wars” and “WALL-E” fame. The new sound effects may seem a little obtrusive to silent film aficionados, inasmuch as they clearly point to a future technology and take the viewer out of the moment of the movie. But it’s the overdetermined sound that will probably put the film over for a modern audience whose only familiarity with the silent aesthetic comes from the even more aggressively anachronistic “The Artist.” My New York Times review is here.
On an alternate track, Paramount has included the pipe organ score recorded by Gaylord Carter when Paramount reissued the film on VHS in 1987 (as part of a package of a dozen silent films restored for the studio’s 75th anniversary — yes, times have changed). As near as I can determine (and I’d appreciate hearing from anyone with better information on this), “Wings” opened in its first run engagements in 1927 as a silent film, but by the time it went into general release in 1929/30, it had been outfitted with a Movietone track, now apparently lost, which would naturally have included sound effects. Wisely, Paramount chose not to “goat-gland” the movie by grafting on dialogue scenes, though the film was such a success — far outgrossing “The Jazz Singer,” as Donald Crafton has demonstrated — that it hardly needed any extra help at the box office.
Another mystery: the AFI Catalog lists the gifted Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (“Laughter”) as an uncredited co-director, though without suggesting what scenes he was responsible for. As a certified Frenchman (imported by Chaplin to work as a technical adviser on “A Woman of Paris”) was D’Abbadie perhaps put to work on the Parisian night club sequence? With its dazzling establishing shot — an extended dolly/crane shot that passes between couples (including a forthrightly lesbian pair) seated at tiny tables before arriving at a drunken Buddy Rogers — the sequence seems outside the norm for Wellman, but who knows? Can any of the Wellmaniacs in the gang offer enlightenment?