A willfully eccentric, highly mannered look at the inventors of the airplane, this low-budget indie possesses a certain playful appeal that doesn't compensate for its avant-garde posturing. The general public will never buy it, so only hope of exposure lies in fests, quasi-educational sites and, possibly, cable and PBS outlets.

A willfully eccentric, highly mannered look at the inventors of the airplane, this low-budget indie possesses a certain playful appeal that doesn’t compensate for its avant-garde posturing. The general public will never buy it, so only hope of exposure lies in fests, quasi-educational sites and, possibly, cable and PBS outlets.

Second feature, after “The Seven Mysteries of Life,” by former Harvard Lampoon editor Gregg Lachow announces its peculiarity at the outset with the entrance of Orville Wright, who is portrayed by actress Megan Murphy. Her brother Wilbur is played by a man, E.B. Molloy, but further incongruities quickly crop up as some characters appear in contemporary clothes and modern cars zip by in the backgrounds of shots.

Obviously, Lachow thinks he’s on to something, but it’s never entirely clear what that might be. Screenplay arcs from 1898, when the brothers go to Kitty Hawk for the first time, to 1948, when Orville, who has outlived his brother by 37 years, tours an aviation museum and sees their 1902 glider there.

But what comes in between are generally banal little scenes in which the acting and direction are far more precise than the intentions of the screenplay, which seems to aim for generally theoretical goals such as undertaking some sort of analytical investigation into the Wrights and their work, a consideration of how best to relate history, and establishing a relationship between past events and the current day.

Even though Murphy’s performance is good enough to vaguely justify casting a woman as Orville, none of the other self-conscious and affected strategies pays off with any edifying insight into the character of these bicycle mechanics from Ohio or their place in history. Even with his modestly pretentious approach, Lachow isn’t presenting a revisionist reading of the inventors’ lives, nor would it be very meaningful if he did, since very few people know any particulars about them other than the fact of their accomplishment and where it took place.

Since the $120,000 budget clearly didn’t allow for the reproduction of aircraft, film basically does without them or the conventional suspense surrounding the flights themselves. Mainstream viewers will reject this and other frustrations out of hand, while more sympathetic audiences will at least strain to speculate as to what Lachow is doing.

Lensed in Washington State, pic has a good look for being on 16mm, and is well outfitted for the money. All the same, this very off-center look at two of the century’s least-known but most significant inventors makes one anxious to see a well-researched docu on the brothers, or read a book to fill in the many holes and questions left unanswered here.

The Wright Brothers

Production

A Millennium Pictures presentation. Produced by Chris Peterson. Executive producer, Richard Brender. Directed, written by Gregg Lachow

Crew

Camera (Alpha Cine Lab color, 16mm), Gina Hicks; editor, Jaime Hook; music, Jim Ragland; production design, Alan Lehman; costumes, LeDawn King; sound, Ajae Clearway; associate producer/assistant director, Chip Phillips. Reviewed at L.A. Independent Film Festival, April 5, 1997. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Orville Wright - Megan Murphy Wilbur Wright - E.B. Molloy Katherine Wright - Kara McMahon Lorin Wright - Mark C. Murphy Reuchlin Wright - Charlie Rathbun Bishop Wright - John W. Stone Octave Chanute - Antero Ali Augustus Herring - John Holyoke Boat Captain - Robert Hunter Netta Wright - Michaele Miller Charlie Taylor - John Q. Smith
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