One Six Right Review
There is precious little romance about flying. Flying transatlantic overnight is like attempting to sleep while sitting upright in a caravan in the clothes you were wearing that day and inviting forty-nine other people to join you, half of whom arrive with an airborne infection. With the temperature soaring, you close the doors and windows, wrap yourself in a blanket and play a recording, very loudly, of a deep humming noise. That's the only ground-based equivalent that comes close to flying. Business class is marginally better - the food is a better class of tasteless muck - while First is slightly better still providing you're happy paying thousands of pounds extra for metal cutlery and a bed that is at least flat. Flying is as romantic as syphilis and one need only fly Ryanair once to realise that.
One Six Right goes some way to reminding the viewer that flying was once a glorious and inspiring achievement. Looking absolutely stunning even in this standard definition release - it is also available in a 1080p high-definition version - the film charts the history of the Van Nuys General Aviation Airport in Los Angeles but, in doing so, looks at the milestones left by the regional airport and the part that it plays in the economy, the social well-being and the life of the neighbourhood around it. Even when the interviews with those that live around Van Nuys are interrupted by the sound of passing helicopters, private jets or biplanes, there's a grudging acceptance of the airport. And when those same flights are shown to be police and travel helicopters, hospital flights and National Guard mercy missions, One Six Right illustrates the importance of the thousands of general aviation airports and what is lost in their passing.
The story of One Six Right begins on the ground but very soon takes to the air. Using high-definition cameras, One Six Right follows those planes down the runway, into the air and through the skies over the San Fernando valley. The aerial photography is not, however, the jump cuts of Top Gun but is a languorous study of airplanes turning gracefully through the clouds and over the ground below, accompanied by music that Enya might describe as a little frantic. But very soon, the film moves back onto the ground and through archive footage, still photographs and interviews with those who remember the record-breaking flights, the sale of the airport between hands and, across the state of California, the passing of the regional airport. Each story, be it the setting of an endurance record involving the passing of petrol between one plane and another, where it was collected in five-gallon jars, the first non-stop jet flight between Los Angeles and New York, Van Nuys standing in for Morocco in Casablanca or the building of the Pregnant Guppy aircraft to transport Saturn V rocket parts between the east and west coasts is told by those that were there, often only as children looking through the chain-link fence. And those moments live on even now, with children standing at the fence around the airport watching the planes take-off and land. Perhaps there aren't the pilots returning home from the Second World War anymore and setting up fledgling air transport businesses but from the reactions of those children, it doesn't matter what the planes are doing as their fingers trace their path through the sky.
At only seventy-three minutes - the actual pre-credits running time is just over an hour - this is a short but hugely enjoyable documentary that really does bring the romance into flying. The skies look inviting, the planes, being repainted, waxed and dusted until they gleam, appear little more than museum pieces until one sees them still flying while the airport, perhaps not much more than a control tower, runways and dried grassland, is given a place both in history and in the suburbs that have sprung up around it. Persuasive in its argument, it's impossible not to agree with One Six Right's acknowledgement of the importance of flight and of the part that the small airport plays in the success of a neighbourhood. And it is never more successful than when a bright red biplane barrel-rolls in an otherwise empty sky, a gleaming silver fighter plane flies by or a yellow Cub emerges from its hangar and ascends into the six down a runway marked One Six Right. Of all the documentaries on flying, none have been produced with as much love for aviation as this, bringing, yes, the romance back into flight.
Filmed using high-definition cameras, this looks wonderful even in standard definition. The print used for the source is spotless, the colours are bright and perfectly presented and detail is impressive throughout. No one shot is rushed with the film taking time to pan slowly across every moment, which gives much of the air-to-air work a beauty that's uncommon in feature documentaries. This care is shown even in the interviews that are included in the film and while some of them betray that fuzzy look so common on US television, notably those filmed within a television recording studio, so long as One Six Right remains at Van Nuys, the picture is never less than stunning. Although, breaking a somewhat recent habit, the screenshots included here are not a patch on watching the film on a decent home cinema setup, my creaking old PC being no match for a plasma, a not-at-all-bad DVD player and a digital connection between the two.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is just as good, featuring the sound moving slowly about the room as the planes pass overhead and by the helicopter used for the air-to-air shots. The dialogue is perfectly clear, which is particularly noticeable given how most of the film was made at an airport at which a plane lands or takes off every forty-five seconds, although Terwilliger permits the film to have a moment of comedy late on with a montage of moments spoiled by passing airplanes. Otherwise, this sounds very clean and without anything to really criticise it for. Finally, there are English subtitles.
Flight (4m28s): Bringing together a lot of the air-to-air photography from the film, this shows, in a matter of minutes, why One Six Right is a beautiful film to watch. There is a little more here than was included in the film but not a great deal.
The Joyride II (1m00s): Short but fun, this offers us a glimpse of a stunt pilot taking to the skies in a red, white and blue biplane and making the kind of flying that would have most of us passing out look so easy.
Childhood Dreams (2m30s): One of the things that many of the contributors to One Six Right have in common is their standing at the chain-link fence as children and looking at the airplanes take-off and land. With children in flight jackets taking their place, this offers yet more wonderful footage of airplanes, this time on the ground, with young boys staring at them gobsmacked by the beauty and detail of their design.
Old Helmet And Goggles (1m41s): Ben Harper, a retired United Airlines captain, was interviewed for One Six Right wearing a battered old flight jacket. Here he takes out an even more battered old flight helmet and goggles and struggles to put them on.
Historical Photographs (3m42s): From the black-and-white photos of Van Nuys in its first days as an operating airport when airplane hangers were the only buildings that could be seen to the corporate jets and spy planes that would arrive in the sixties, this offers a short glimpse back at the stories from the airport's history and how it and the town around it grew.
Production Shots (7m45s): Not so much a making of as a series of behind-the-scenes stills of how the interviews, on-the-ground and air-to-air shots were accomplished. If close-ups of cameras, boom mikes and the crew of One Six Right are your thing then there's something of interest in this but, otherwise and other than some lovely stills, there's very little to get excited about.
Deleted Scenes (2m49s): Only three such scenes are included, one being a look back at the time Lookheed kept a hanger at Van Nuys, which would serve as a point for U2 spy planes to fly in and out of. Also included in this section is The Ercoupe, a starter plane from the early 40s that would be delivered by Sears And Roebucks for $2700 before, finally, we see a glimpse of the only time Air Force One stopped at Van Nuys with Reagan using the airport as a quick means home. Or, possibly, thinking he'd landed in London and emerged in search of Princess David.
There is an accompanying DVD with extra bonus material included on it and which is called, in honour of Van Nuys landing strip, One Six Left. The bonus features included on this DVD, which is on sale separately or, for a premium, together, are:
In The Clouds: Enya is on the soundtrack for this bonus feature so you can imagine how it's yet more footage of planes flying slowly through the sky and in and out of Van Nuys. Very, very close to Flight from the One Six Right DVD even to using much the same footage, it's an attractive-looking feature but indicative of this DVD in that it really adds little to the One Six Right experience.
Movie Montage: Once again, this features some of the better air-to-air footage from One Six Right but, like the increasing number of these extras, much is being made of the same sequences, which were, in the main, also present in One Six Right.
Pitts Pattern: Accompanied by radio chatter between the pilot and the control tower, this features footage from a flight out of Van Nuys from a position in front of the pilot and looking behind him down the length of the plane. Whilst not doing anything more than taxing onto the runway, taking off and, circling Van Nuys, landing, it's still a nice little sequence made perhaps more worrying by its point of view.
The Joyride III: This is a very short piece of film that extends The Joyride II from the One Six Right disc.
The Making Of One Six Right: This is the feature that the One Six Right DVD needed but which is on One Six Left. Featuring interviews with Brian Terwilliger and his crew, this describes the making of the film, from the air-to-air footage taken early in production to beginning filming at the airport with permission having been denied, leading to Terwilliger having to sneak about Van Nuys and grab shots without being discovered by the security guards. However, with permission granted having assembled a trailer, Terwilliger goes on to describe the more challenging shots and hear from those who assisted him on the film including from the point of view of the editor, composer, cinematographer and visual effects supervisor. The running time of this feature is approximately twenty-two minutes.
Piano Solo: The music of One Six Right is a perfect match to the in-the-air footage and this brief extra sees composer Nathan Wang play it on the piano. It's a lovely piece of music, no less so for not accompanying the sight of airplanes.
From Workbench To Runway: Mentioned in the making-of, this short film is available on the DVD. It's four or five minutes long and shows Brian Terwilliger making a model plane before taking it, as per the title, from his workbench and onto the runway where a little model man, who looks very happy given that he's effectively a test pilot, takes to the air in it and does a very fine job of landing it again. In one piece, too.
There were no running times available on this DVD but the back of the case claims One Six Left as running for a total of forty-eight minutes, which seems about right having watched it.