Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is appalled that Sally Field was never mentioned.
"It's the story of ingenuity and perseverance, of a dream that refused to die."
The first inflight movie was a silent version of The Lost World, and Bob Hope once gave TWA passengers an airborne preview of his movie, Bachelor in Paradise ("No walk-outs"). Those are my favorite fun facts from Birth of Flight: A History of Civil Aviation, an eight-part series on air history, now out on DVD. It seems to have originally run as The Amazing World of Aviation: Past, Present and Future, the title that appears on screen.
Facts of the Case
The eight episodes are on three discs:
• "Post WWI/Brainstorming"
• "Aviation Advancement and Design"
• "Seaplanes Development and Use"
• "Jet Aircraft Development"
• "Airport Development and Modern Aviation"
The first episode of Birth of Flight has a lot of facts about early flight. They all go by in a kind of a blur, augmented for the most part by still photos or illustrations. It's interesting, but you probably won't retain that much. That turns out to be a quirk of history, since TV news crews just weren't hovering around when Wilbur and Orville Wright took to the air at Kitty Hawk. From the second episode on, Birth of Flight becomes a feast of film footage.
The documentary makers provide a lot of information, but what makes the series entertaining is their eye for the offbeat and downright kitschy. Occasionally, this falters, as when they use a fake TV border illustration for 1930s newsreel footage (there might have been a few TVs in the 1930s, but this was movie film). However, you'll probably be hooked when you see a barnstormer playing golf on the wing of a plane. You might wonder where those balls landed and reflect on how little you'd have liked to have been underneath, but you'll undoubtedly want to keep watching.
With a combination of newsreel footage, promotional film, and company footage, Birth of Flight not only covers facts (Do you realize that zeppelins got a million miles in without crashes?), but also captures the romance and sheer silliness that once accompanied flight. Film footage of the reservation process or an in-flight cocktail lounge might come across as kitsch today, but it shows you that people used to actually enjoy going up in an airplane. Better still, it's often scored with a retro cocktail style that adds just a hint of cheesiness.
The picture and sound quality, as you'd imagine, varies considerably, given the wide range of source material. There's nothing that's in too-bad shape, though.
There are no extras. If, like me, you're the sort of person who could have an entertaining evening watching cheesy promotional films in full, you'll be disappointed, but I suspect there's enough kitsch for most of you.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're actually wanting to retain facts, read a book. Watch this afterward, but it'll be best to actually study.
If you're one of those Beloit College freshmen who hasn't even lived in an age when flight was fun, you need to see this. If you do remember at least a little bit of the Airport Age or the Jet Age, you might still like it. It brings a sense of gee-whiz to something we now take for granted, and take for granted that we'll suffer through.
Not guilty, although airlines get a reprimand until in-flight cocktail
lounges are once again more common than body cavity searches.
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