The History of the Kiss in the Cinema

A journey through the history of the kiss in the cinema. The first and all who changed history.

History of Kiss

A journey through the history of the kiss in the cinema. The first and all who changed history.

The history of the kiss in the cinema has given us many unforgettable moments. There are all kinds of them: on the beach with the impact of the waves ( From here to eternity , 1953); at a romantic dinner with a plate of pasta ( The Lady and the Tramp , 1955); in the rain after finding a lost pet ( Breakfast with diamonds , 1961); those who point to a betrayal ( The Godfather II , 1974) on the prow of an impossible ship to sink ( Titanic , 1997); or even upside down ( Spider-Man , 2002).

The kiss is such a recurring element in celluloid that we often take it for granted and forget that – like many other elements in the industry – it went through a long process to become what it is.

The first of all

The history of the kiss in the cinema was born more than 100 years ago, when William Heise – under the orders of Thomas Edison – captured the action in a short film made in 1896. The video of just 25 seconds used the actors John Rice and May Irwin to recreate the final scene in the musical The Widow Jones . More importantly, it shows a clear effort to film a kiss without sacrificing the faces of its protagonists. Everything is useless, as the posture results in a slight brush of lips. It is then that Rice decides to improvise and positions herself laterally to kiss Irwin head-on.

The image caused astonishment and discontent in a large part of the public, since many considered it an obscene and pornographic short. The Catholic Church also participated in the debate when it sought to censor the short film as amoral. Today it is a fundamental piece of history to understand cinema. Thus was born the film kiss and although it has evolved with the mobility of the camera and creative ingenuity in the industry, it continues to preserve this same foundation.

Color kiss

The controversy of The Kiss motivated more creatives to play with the possibilities of the kiss. There were many who did it, but few stood out like William Selig with Something Good , also known under the name Black Kiss .

The short film made in 1898 captures the first cinematic kiss of a colored couple and the last until 1945. Beyond this invaluable historical legacy, the project stood out for its detachment from the racial stereotypes of the time to focus on naturalness, freshness and good chemistry from its protagonists Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown.

The film was missing for decades, until a copy was found at a Louisiana garage sale and restored by elements from the University of Southern California and the University of Chicago. The material was incorporated almost immediately into the Library of Congress for its historical value.

The realistic kiss

The early years of Danish cinema inspired all kinds of scandals due to the eroticism of their films and had an important impact on the history of the kiss in cinema. Much of the controversy arose with the creation of the realistic kiss, in which –according to a German chronicle of the time recovered by Román Gubern in his book Historia del cine– “the characters are no longer content with kissing quickly as before. The lips come together for a long time, voluptuously and the woman, in full ecstasy, throws her head back ”. The best example of this action was Hacia el abismo ( Afgrunden ), released in 1911 and which converted Asta Nielseninto one of the first world-class movie stars. His films were all the rage at European box offices, and the practice was soon embraced by nascent global industries.

The so-called Danish kiss was key to reaching the kiss we know today. For its part, Nielsen’s sensuality was also essential for the consolidation of film noir with the fatal woman as its greatest exponent.

Same sex kiss

Kisses between actors of the same sex are common today and although it is easy to think that their origins in the history of kissing in the cinema are relatively recent, the truth is that they go back to 1927 with the silent film Wings . The film shows Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen playing two fighter pilots whose friendship suffers mishaps when they both fall in love with the same woman. In the end, the relationship is broken by an unfortunate accident, resulting in an affectionate reconciliation sealed by a kiss that hardly involves a light brush of lips. More curious is that the kiss was not controversial, to the extent that it did not influence the film to be awarded the first Academy Award for Best Film.

Marcel Danesi explains in his book The History of the Kiss that the acceptance was based on the fact that “kisses in the trenches were common during World War II” and because “it was not really romantic, but reverberated by the desperate love of two dear friends that they are about to be separated by death ”.

More controversial was the first kiss between two women presented in Morocco (1930) and starring Marlene Dietrich after her interpretation of ” Quand L’Amour Meurt ” (“When love dies  ). Unlike the kiss in Wings , this one was characterized by its high sexual charge: the actress dressed in a tuxedo and top hat, asking a woman for a rose and finally stealing a kiss with a big smile.

It didn’t take long for same-sex kisses to be pulled from the cinema because of their alleged lack of morals. His return would be until 1971 with Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Schlesinger, 1971).

Hollywood self-censorship

The various puritanical groups in the United States singled out Hollywood as a symbol of perversion for its stories, its risky scenes, and even the eccentricity of its stars. This prompted the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America (MPPDA), led by Will H. Hays , to establish a code of censorship that according to Gubern, “its ultimate goal is for American films to present an immaculate, comfortable, just society, weighted, stable, aseptic and reassuring ”.

The so-called Code of Cinematographic Production – also called the Hays Code – came into force in 1934 and had a direct impact on the history of the kiss in cinema, which from then on could not be lewd, excessive, or last longer than three seconds. . There were many who defied the imposition, being Alfred Hitchcock one of the most ingenious with Notorious ( Yours is my heart , in Spanish, 1946), which includes a sequence of almost three minutes with countless kisses. None exceeded three seconds.

The Code was in effect until 1968, when the Motion Picture Association of the United States (MPAA) classification system was used.

The aesthetics of the kiss

In 1942, Life magazine published a photographic guide with the most aesthetic positions for kissing. This publication was directly influenced by Hollywood cinema, which, affected by the Hays Code, had to devise new ways to capture the emotion of a kiss without being excessive. It was around this time that the cliches that show women putting their heads back or lifting their legs were born. Special mention for the so-called Dip Kiss , which was popularized with the VJ Day in Times Square photograph taken during the Victory Day celebrations over Japan on August 14, 1945. Needless to say, these positions disappeared around the 1960s, when the Code it was discontinued.

The interracial kiss

The actions of Martin Luther King Jr. were decisive for racial equality in the United States, but the truth is that the cinema also played a very important part in the process. Six years before the legendary “ I Have a Dream ” speech , director Robert Rossen made history with Island in the Sun(1957), which showed two interracial romances on a Caribbean island. Although American law prohibited marriage between people of different races, the plot was possible because the Hays Code had lifted the prohibition on interracial romances in 1956, that is, just a year before the premiere. Unfortunately the efforts fell short because the production avoided further controversy with minimal physical contact between its actors: John Justin and Dorothy Dandridge only reached a hug; Harry Belafonte and Joan Fontainethey settled for a handshake. Rumor has it that the filming included kisses between the two couples, but the scenes never made it to the final cut. This did not prevent the rejection of southern audiences and hate letters from different regions of the country.

It took almost ten years for Guy Green’s A Patch of Blue (1965) to capture the first interracial kiss in the history of the kiss in the cinema between Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman , who plays a blind person with whom he seeks to demonstrate that love is blind. The scene was removed for screenings in the southern states of the American Union.

More scandalous was the kiss between Katharine Houghton and Poitier himself in Do you know who’s coming to dinner?  (1967), classified as excessively passionate even if it is only seen in a rear-view mirror. The actress recalled in an interview with Vanity Fairthat “when we filmed it […] there was a lot of tension. Tremendous. There are a lot of people on a set, a lot of different political opinions. Not everyone has the same point of view […]. The whole plot was taboo. And for a comedy? About an interracial marriage? It was quite a success ”. Both Kramer and Houghton received death threats, but there were also many who applauded the effort to seek true equality. It also highlights that the exhibition of the film coincided with the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., who had a small mention in a sarcastic tone. The scene was edited immediately, but was reinserted in 1969.

French kiss

Although the Hays Code remained in force until 1968, its use was increasingly challenged by different productions that sought to capture different faces of society. Such was the case with Splendor in the Grass (1961), which captured the conflicting emotions of a teenage girl ( Natalie Wood ) who must decide between respecting the moral standards of her family or following her youthful passions. In the end, the girl is unable to resist the charms of her partner ( Warren Beatty ), with whom she ends up merging in the first French kiss in the entire history of cinema. The sequence did not generate as much commotion as one might imagine, as it took a back seat to the powerful criticism of social repression faced by American youth at the time.

The animated kiss

The kiss is a fundamental element in several fairy tales and it is not surprising that Disney studios have played a decisive role in their leap into animated cinema. Although there are many debates about which was the first kiss in the history of the technique, many experts agree that the first truly memorable happened with the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The story could have been very different if the production had respected the original sketches that showed the prince stealing a kiss from a maiden during their first meeting.

“It was too much for a prince,” said Fox Carney, research manager at the Walt Disney Animation Library [ via ]. “The audience could think that ‘if I were Snow White and the Prince kisses me without asking my permission, I would slap him.’ It was not the story they wanted to tell ”. Fortunately the creative team corrected the way and reserved the first kiss for one of the most memorable moments in the history of cinema.

Even more curious is that the realism of the animated kiss in Disney reached until 2010, when Tangled became the first animated film that included the sound of a realistic kiss. In this regard, director Nathan Greno explained “when people kiss there is an emotional sound and we wanted everything to be believable and realistic. If that is what happens in real life, it is what will appear in the movie. ”

Finally, Star against the forces of evil was the first children’s project to show cartoons of the same genre in the history of the kiss in the cinema. The sequence only happened in 2017, but this did not avoid the enormous controversy: many applauded the decision, considering that it was the best way to combat homophobia; others criticized it, claiming that it could be harmful to the little ones.

Recognition of the kiss

The kiss is such a common element in cinema that different productions have made great efforts to make them more and more memorable. Some believe that this work can be so decisive for the success or failure of a film, that it would even deserve to be recognized by the Academy Awards. The possibility seems virtually impossible, but at least we have the consolation that the MTV Movie Awards have it among its founding categories – the contest began in 1992 – and most popular.

Some of the winning films include My First Kiss ( My Girl ), Sex Games ( Cruel Intentions ), Spider-Man , Diary of a Passion ( The Notebook ) and Secret on the Mountain Brokeback Mountain ). The record of victories belongs to Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson after winning the category for four consecutive years by Twilight ( Twilight ). Finally highlights the unexpected defeat of Titanic at the lips of Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler for The best of my weddings ( The Wedding Singer).

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