Public Domain Theater: Wings (& “Koko in 1999”)

Welcome to Public Domain Theater, your home for the wonderful world of films that have (in the United States, at least) fallen into the public domain, and are free for everyone to see!

A new year is upon us! And you know what that means: a fresh wave of copyright expirations!

All films released in the year 1927 are now in the public domain. This is quite the significant milestone, because 1927 saw the release of The Jazz Singer, the very first motion picture with synchronized sound (a.k.a. a “talkie”). This is the first time in decades a sound picture has had its copyright expire, and I look forward to a whole new era of Hollywood entering the public domain.

I considered featuring The Jazz Singer here to commemorate the occasion, but then I remembered, “Oh, right … the blackface.” So instead, I present to you one of the last great hurrahs of the silent era. The first film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and (until The Artist came out more than eighty years later) the only silent film to be so honored. It’s the 1927 epic war movie, Wings!

It tells the tale of two small town boys who become World War I flying aces, and the girl next door (played by the ever-delightful Clara Bow) who follows them in the Women’s Motor Corp. Their saga is packed with wrenching moments of tragedy, hilarious sequences of comedy, and battle scenes that, more than a century later, can still amaze with the sheer spectacle on display. Even if this was the only film to enter the public domain this year, it’d still be an amazing boon.

But if a 150-minute war movie isn’t to your taste, no worries! You can also enjoy our opening cartoon from the Out of the Inkwell series, “Koko in 1999” (also titled “Koko Kills Time”). Watch as Max Fleischer sends their signature creation, Koko the Klown, into the far off future of 1999, and experiences all that hyper-advanced civilization has to offer (though, surprisingly, not a Sega Genesis to be seen).

So let’s ring in the new year, everyone, and welcome our latest entrants to the fabled halls of Public Domain Theater!

Opening Cartoon:

Feature Presentation:

Watch Wings on the Internet Archive here