If Oscar buzz is any indicator, Hollywood is on the brink of making Academy Awards history. For the first time, silent films may bookend the best-picture category.
The first, and only, non-talkie to win the motion picture academy's top prize was director William A. Wellman's high-flying 1927 drama "Wings," starring Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers.
Now, the 2011 silent film "The Artist" is gathering some serious award-season momentum as a best picture favorite at the 84th annual Oscar ceremony on Feb. 26. The silent-period Valentine from French director Michel Hazanavicius has won numerous honors, including best comedy or musical at Sunday's Golden Globes.
Meanwhile, in a touch of silent symmetry, an extensively restored version of "Wings" thrilled celebrities and regular folks alike this week at special screenings sponsored by the motion picture academy. And next week, the restored "Wings" will be released on DVD.
"I know my father would be clapping," said William Wellman Jr. at a Tuesday night VIP screening at the academy's Beverly Hills headquarters. The son of the "Wings" director is author of "The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture."
The "Wings" screening also served as a kickoff for an academy exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of Paramount Pictures, which originally produced the World War I drama.
In reality, it's pure coincidence that the "Wings" restoration and DVD release come at the same time as "The Artist's" mounting recognition on the awards circuit.
Nevertheless, "there's such a nice tribute to the history of cinema in ("The Artist"), that I'm thrilled about it," noted Andrea Kalas, a Paramount archivist who oversaw the "Wings" restoration. "And the fact that 'Wings' gets mentioned in its context doesn't upset me in the least."