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Taking a new look at 'Wings': A good print is hard to find

May 13, 2003|Susan King

The good news about "Wings" is that no scenes have been removed nor has the continuity been tampered with since it was released back in 1927. But the bad news, says Academy Film Archive director Michael Pogorzelski, is that the original camera negative deteriorated many years ago.

"Most of the elements from around the world today are derived from a nitrate print which was at the Library of Congress," he says. "A duplicate negative was made from that and that dupe negative has made a succession of elements from prints and fine grains [negatives]."

But eventually that nitrate print and original dupe negative also deteriorated. "So we are really four generations" removed from the original negative, says Pogorzelski.

For the restoration of "Wings," the academy is using a fine grain negative from Paramount, which is in "pretty good shape." The newly restored print has returned all the color tinting to the film. "Generally tints were used for certain sequences but 'Wings' is one of the few where it is tinted throughout," says Pogorzelski. "The four colors they used were light amber, amber, lavender and blue for the night sequences."

"This is a sensational score," says conductor and musicologist Gillian Anderson. Back in 1927, composer J.S. Zamecnik wrote the accompaniment to "Wings" with his own composed music and pre-existing music -- including works by Mendelssohn, John Philip Sousa, Tchaikovsky and Verdi -- he selected. Though the original orchestrations no longer exist, says Anderson, there was a piano score that had been deposited for copyright by Paramount back in 1927.

"In the piano score there are 181 sections," says Anderson. "All had a copyright notice on them. So it said the year it was given the copyright, the copyright owner, the title of the piece and the composer. With those copyright notices, I was able to track down the original arrangements he used. They came from all over the world. Then the 50% of the score that was his original material, some of it was his own pre-existing material and we were able to get a hold of it. Or if it had been published, we were able to find those arrangements. For music that was written but hadn't been published, we had to re-orchestrate it."

The score, Anderson says, "really adds a lot to the picture. His composed music has themes for each of the major characters. There's a very famous love theme that's very upbeat. There's a lot of humor in the movie and there's a lot of humor in the music. It's infectious."

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