THE GREAT WAR AND THE PIONEERS OF AVIATION

 


The advent of aviation coincided with the invention of cinema. And the Great War would not fail to use both inventions to the full. US cinema in particular succeeded in portraying the extraordinary character of the flying heroes that were the wartime pilots, demonstrating their extraordinary prowess. Among the most famous are Von Richthofen, alias the Red Baron, on the German side and Guynemer and Nungesser on the French side. Four films make up our selection. Four films from four different times, including two from the same filmmaker, William Wellman, himself a First World War pilot. William Wellman was already a well-known filmmaker when in 1927 he directed the first every Hollywood portrayal of military pilots. A story of air combat, love and friendship, Wings was the first ever film to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture. Wellman, who always endeavoured to portray the reality of front line warfare rather than idealising military heroism, would go on to direct Lafayette Escadrille in 1958, a film based on the French Air Service esquadrille to which he himself enlisted. British filmmaker John Guillermin, in his film Blue Max, invites us to follow the journey of a German pilot consumed by ambition. The film offers a gripping portrayal of the state of Germany at the time, along with its skilfully executed air chase scenes. French filmmaker Richard Dembo’s 1993 work Angel’s Wing stars Lambert Wilson in a portrayal of one pilot’s hopeless and unwavering struggle for promotion. Being a World War I fighter pilot will remain, as these films are testimony, a dazzling feat of solitude and bravado.

Olivier Broche

THE FILMS


WINGS
(1927), William Wellman - USA

LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE
(1958), William Wellman - USA

THE BLUE MAX 
(1966), John Guillermin - USA

ANGEL'S WING (1993), Richard Dembo - France

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