#180) The Kiss (1896)

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#180) The Kiss (1896)

OR “The Very First Kiss Cam”

Directed by William Heise

Adapted from “The Widow Jones” by John J. McNally

Class of 1999

The Plot: Divorced teacher Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane) is persuaded by her family to start dating again. She tries this new thing called online dating and…oh wait, never mind. That’s the plot of “Must Love Dogs”. This is a film about two people (May Irwin & John Rice) kissing. In Thomas Edison’s own words, “They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time.”

Why It Matters: The NFR write-up covers the film’s major talking points (we’ll get to those later), and gives the film’s historical significance as “film’s first romance” and “the first time films were regularly projected on screens rather than shown to individual viewers on machines”.

But Does It Really?: Oh yes, and more so than most film of the era. A lot of films (especially the other Edison experimental ones) are on this list primarily because they still exist, but “The Kiss” actually has historical significance that is monumental to the evolution of film. Sure its claim as the first film love story is a bit, for lack of better term, romanticized, but it was quite the hit in its day, and helped push the envelope of what film could be. “The Kiss” has zero of the scandalous stigma it had in 1896, but regardless, it’s a pivotal moment in film history.

Everybody Gets One: Both May Irwin and John Rice were seasoned Broadway performers when they appeared together in “The Widow Jones” in 1895. Edison caught a performance and had them recreate their final kiss in the show for his camera.

Wow, That’s Dated: I was going to say his handlebar moustache, but that wouldn’t be too out of place in today’s hipster culture.

Other notes

  • For the record, the characters are named The Widow Jones and Billie Bikes.
  • I don’t see how pressing your cheeks up against each other is a comfortable way to talk to someone.
  • The assumption is that Irwin and Rice are delivering their lines from the show. Any clues to what they’re saying? At this point I’ll take a Bad Lip Reading.
  • Hard to believe, but this film – the first screen kiss – was highly controversial in its day. Film was still in its infancy, and the idea of a kiss being projected on a large screen was considered vulgar in 1896. Newspapers decried the film as “absolutely disgusting”, and the Catholic Church tried to get the film censored. Can you imagine what these prudes would make of “Fifty Shades of Gray”? Of course, the culture shock of watching something from 120 years in the future would probably be stronger than their moral outrage.

Legacy

  • Like fellow Edison film “Record of a Sneeze”, “The Kiss” is a good clip to have in your classic movies montage.
  • “The Widow Jones” was revived on Broadway five years after this film, with May Irwin reprising her role as the title character.
  • The 1899 knockoff “The Kiss in the Tunnel”, which is exactly like “The Kiss”…but on a train!
  • I dunno, do I go for the Hershey’s Kisses joke? The KISS joke? Kiss FM? No, it’s gotta be the Prince song.

Further Viewing: The kissing montage to end all kissing montages, courtesy of “Cinema Paradiso”.

3 thoughts on “#180) The Kiss (1896)”

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