Notes for the Eigth Lecture




Paramount Famous Lasky Corp.

The arrival of the Academy Awards

The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1927 Louis B. Mayer, head of production for MGM, put together the people to form the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. His stated idea seemed potentially noble enough in that he wanted to exchange ideas and promote technical advances.

Mayer wanted the organization to be a body to arbitrate labor disputes in an industry that was not yet unionized. Many feel that his major goal was to create a body that would regularly come down in labor disputes of the side of management.

The organization formed May 4, 1927 with 36 founding members. Those in bold have been mentioned earlier:

Actors (6): Richard Barthelmess
Douglas Fairbanks
Jack Holt
Harold Lloyd
Conrad Nagel
Milton Sills
Writers (6): Joseph Farnum
Benjamin F. Glazer
Jeanie MacPherson
Bess Meredyth
Carey Wilson
Frank Woods
Directors (6): Cecil B. DeMille
Henry King
Frank Lloyd
Fred Niblo
John M. Stahl
Raoul Walsh
Technicians (3): J. Arthur Ball
Cedric Gibbons
Roy J. Pomeroy
Lawyers (2): George W. Cohen
Edwin Loeb
Producers (13): Fred Beetson
Charles H. Christie
Sid Grauman
Milton E. Hoffman
Jesse Lasky
M.C. Levee
Louis B Mayer
Mary Pickford
Harry Ropf
Joseph M Schenck
Irving G. Thalberg
Harry Warner
Jack Warner
The initial officers were: President: Douglas Fairbanks (actor)
Vice President Fred Niblo (Director)
Treasurer: M.C. Levee (Producer)
Secretary: Frank Woods (Writer)
While the board was pretty diversified, the largest group of members were the producers.

The Motion Picture Academy of Arts as Sciences seems now to be a group of what are thought to be enormously talented people who have the ability to produce the most boring show on television "Hollywood Celebrates Itself" know as the Academy Awards.

From a business perspective it allowed winner to basically ask for more money for their performances. Similar events in Hollywood history, like the unionization of the people involved in movie making, were applauded by the industry which then fled to Canada to avoid the burdens of the union, and fled to right to work states to make films.

In general, the Academy is not seen as impacting the quality or aesthetics of the films. While they failed to stop the unionization of Hollywood, they accomplished little beyond establishing the Academy Awards. Initially they established to categories for a kind of "Best Picture" award - one for production and one for artistic merit. Wings got the one for "production" and Sunrise for "artistic merit".

Apparently, this did not go over well since the winner for "production"felt their film must lack "artistic merit" (and so the following year there was simply ONE category "Best Picture". Some sources have ultimately elevated Wings to that category - retroactively

The Academy also rejected The Jazz Singer because they felt that it was not proper to evaluate sound and silent films in the same category. There weren’t enough full length sound films that year to really have a competition in that category. The statue "The Oscar" was designed by Cedric Gibbons, MGM’s artistic director. George Stanley was the sculptor. While the origin of the name remains unclear, the model was Emilio Fernández, a Mexican actor/director.

From a business perspective, the "Oscar"allowed winner (and even nominees)basically to ask for more money for their performances (having been the recipients of this award).

Similar events in Hollywood history like the unionization of the people involved in movie making were applauded by the industry which then fled to Canada to avoid the burdens of the union and fled to right to work states as well, to make films

In general, The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences is not seen as impacting the quality or aesthetics of the films, The academy awards moved to get some kind of recognition for performers and technicians and winning or being nominated could lead to more roles, better parts and that most important of all things - more money.

Film scholar Scott Eyman in his 1997 book The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 shows both the diverse structure and adapted aspects of Wings He indicates that in this period of change from silent to sound,in American cinematography: "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".

The film is considered by many to be one of the greatest "Air Force" films ever made.


William A. Wellman (February 29, 1896 - December 9, 1975) himself had been an "Ace" in WWI. He enlisted as an ambulance driver in France (the US was not in the war yet). Then he joined the French foreign legion and becoame a fighter pilot (the first American one there ) and was assigned to the Escadrille N.87 in the Lafayette Flying Corps . There he got the nickname of "Wild Bill". He had 3 recorded kills and 5 "probables". He was ultimately shot down and although he (obviously) survived the crash he had a pronounced limp thereafter, was the recipient of several military awards while serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps of the French Air Force, and earning a Croix de Guerre with two palms for valorous action.

He had started in low positions and worked his way up to becoming an actor, screen writer and a major director and producer. He was nominated for 4 Academy Awards . Three were for "Best Director" (the original Star is Born (1937); Battle Ground (1949) and The High and the Mighty (1954). The fourth, which he won, was for “Best Original Story” for A Star is Born (1937). His major films were crime films, action films and adventure films.

Wings won 2 Academy Awards:

1929 Winner Oscar best Picture, Production
1929 Winner Oscar for
Roy Pomeroy for Best Effects, Engineering Effects
There were a number of battles between him and he studio over escalating costs. The film was in large part filmed at an Air Force base in Texas and Wellman wanted to wait for specific sky conditions for his aerial flights. The film is known for its incredible aerial photography. There were also run ins with some of the military technical advisors, but Wellman’s flying background gave him some clout.

Wellman worked quickly. Sometimes taking only one or two takes. While not being overly gentle with his performers he directed 7 to academy awards:

Fredric March and Janet Gaynor A Star Is Born
Brian Donlevy (Beau Geste)
Robert Mitchum (The Story of G.I. Joe)
James Whitmore (Battleground)
Jan Sterling and Claire Trevor (The High and Mighty)
Regarding actors, Wellman in a 1952 interview stated, "Movie stardom isn't about acting ability, it's personality and temperament". He then added, "I once directed Clara Bow. She was mad and crazy but what a personality!"

Writing credits for the film go to

John Monk Saunders (also had military flight experience) (story)
Hope Loring ... (screenplay)
Louis D. Lighton (screenplay)
Clara Bow, who gets top credit as a performer was a major star when this film was made. She was known as "The It Girl" and the part had to be pretty much written in to the original story. The film made major stars out of the two male leads, Richard Arlen (David Armstrong) and Charles "Buddy" Rogers (Jack Powell). Gary Cooper also appears in a small part in the film. Wellman was not the only one with flight experience, Arlen had some military flight experience but Rogers had to learn how to fly for the film. While stunt pilots could be used in distant shots, the actors were clearly visible in the plane during close ups. A newly invented moor driven camera was capable of being fastened to a planes fuselage Towers were built 100 feet high to shoot low flying planes The story is rather typical, two men interested in the same girl become close friends in the military. The film is rather long for such a story, but it is the action sequences during the war that are spectacular.

War Movies as a genre, have many problems in definition. There are sub genres although "combat films" seem to be the archetype. These films spend a great deal of time in battle scene sequences

Combat films like Platoon or Apocalypse Now spend much of their time on the battlefields. archetypes. Combat films are sometime subdivided into air warfare, submarine etc.)

The are those which deal with other aspects of military involvement. Films like Crossfire deal with military personnel as does The Caine Mutiny and The Best Years of Our Lives, The Hasty Heart

Prisoner of war films (The Great Escape, Stalag 17, Prisoner Of War, Manchurian Candidate, Circle of Deception )

They may be historical events (Schindler’s List )

They spill over into science fiction (e.g. War of the Worlds)

War movies, especially combat movies, tend to go in one or two major directions (although both may occur in the same film): a. Pro and antiwar movies
b. Male camaraderie films (sometimes in general called "buddy films")
There have been some questions raised about whether a movie can really be "antiwar" The argument being that putting something upon the screen automatically glorifies it. So even a film which is "antiwar"winds up at some level glorifying it,

As an example of the problems of analysis (being wildly personal, William K. Everson in his American Silent Film p 293 says of The Big Parade:
"...survives as the first really important film about WWI . For a film to assail the false values (flag waving fervor and jubilant patriotism) of the American people was an extremely rare and courageous undertaking in the 20’s"

Whereas Jay Hyams in his War Movies says:
"American audiences loved the film, for without denying the horrors of the war , it reinforced the national sense of pride in the heroism of American soldiers."

The second kind of film with "male bonding" is often currently analyzed as sexual and hence having undertones of homosexuality.

Because war movies (until fairly recently) are dominated by men since women’s roles were restricted in the military, they generally appeared as the "love interest" of one or more of the military men. In fact Clara Bow’s part in this film is constructed to have a somewhat major role. Clara Bow was Paramount’s major star (known as the "It Girl" as a result of a film called It in which Clara Bow had "it") After the film:

a. Action sequences: These are spectacular and nothing like this had been filmed before. Wellman clearly wanted to capture the feel of being in the planes and having been a fighter pilot knew what he wanted

b. Currently the film has been discussed because it is claimed by some to have first "nude" scenes of two "nude scenes"

i. Males seen from the rear in physical ex&ams
ii Clara Bow suddenly caught changing clothes
iii Both are very brief and the first scene shows the recruits through a door in the backround
However, a scene in Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1926) has been pointed out as also having a scene with rear male nudity so Wings is not the first. (Both films are pre-code)
c. The film is also discussed as the first male to male mouth to mouth kiss, although you have already seen an earlier one in Intolerance.