At the second-floor entrance to the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences there is a one-sheet poster of Wings, the first-ever Oscar winner for Best Picture and to date the only silent film ever to win. Next to it is a one-sheet of the most recent Best Picture winner (The King’s Speech) which remains in that place of honor for a year. How ironic then would it be if major contender The Artist were to win, creating a never-dreamed of Academy bookend for two black-and-white silent movies separated by 84 years of Oscar history.
There was no mention of The Artist Tuesday night at the Academy during introductions to the premiere screening of the restored Wings, but the feeling that history could repeat itself this year was definitely something felt in that room. The Academy program was the kickoff to Paramount’s yearlong celebration of its 100th anniversary, and in addition to screenings of its first Best Picture winner Tuesday and Wednesday the Academy is displaying posters and memorabilia from the studio’s storied history in its Grand Lobby through February 6.
It’s a big year for studio 100ths with Universal also celebrating a centennial and promising yearlong events and restorations just like Paramount. In fact Academy President Tom Sherak announced last night that the Acad will also be hosting a similar event for Universal later in the year. But this night belonged to William Wellman’s masterful Wings which at a cost of $2 million in 1927 was the most expensive movie to date in Hollywood. In addition to its Best Picture Oscar, Sherak noted it won an Engineering Effects award and was a true blockbuster — “the ‘Star Wars’ of 1927 that had actors doing their own flying stunts” he said in his opening remarks.