Back in the earliest days of filmmaking, there were few ways to do stunts except by doing them for real. That’s why, in the 1920 film Way Down East, D.W. Griffith had his two stars walking on the ice floes on a frozen river as they headed toward a waterfall, with no contingency plans if something went wrong. Slightly less hazardously, when William Wellman filmed the World War I drama Wings seven years later, he had actors Richard Arlen and Charles “Buddy” Rogers train to fly fighter planes and then sent them up into the sky with cameras attached to the dashboards, simulating aerial combat with actors concentrating on the planes that they were actually flying while wind was ripping through their hair.
This silent film’s impressive aerial footage was undoubtedly why it won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Picture, though the film has other attractions like Clara Bow, one of silent film’s greatest stars, before her career was taken down by the advent of sound and her own mental issues, as well as a little-known Gary Cooper in a supporting role. The film screens at the Fort Worth Central Library as part of an exhibit marking the centennial of America’s entry into World War I.
Wings screens at 5:30pm Thu at 500 W 3rd St, FW. Admission is free. Call 817-871-7701