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The Kiss (1896)

Not Rated | | Short, Romance | 1 April 1896 (USA)
In a medium close-up shot of the first kiss ever recorded on screen, two fervent lovers cuddle and talk passionately at hair's breadth, just before the love-smitten gentleman decides to give his chosen one an innocent peck.

Director:

William Heise

Writer:

John J. McNally (play)
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1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Credited cast:
May Irwin ... The Widow Jones
John C. Rice ... Billie Bikes
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Storyline

A couple make love, in the 19th century sense. Then he grooms his moustache, and gives her a kiss. On the lips! Written by David Steele

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Short | Romance

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Release Date:

1 April 1896 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The May Irwin Kiss See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Silent

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

A fifteen-second kiss by May Irwin and John C. Rice in the movie brought the first demand for film censorship. See more »

Connections

Edited into Women Who Made the Movies (1992) See more »

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User Reviews

Vitascope's Megahit
17 December 2007 | by CineanalystSee all my reviews

There are a few historically interesting aspects concerning this film, "The Kiss". It is, perhaps, the earliest filmed kiss. Supposedly, it created some controversy. Later in 1896, "Fatima's Coochee-Coochee Dance", another Edison film, indeed, was censored via white crossbars covering her chest and hips. Furthermore, the framing of this kissing scene is from a medium close-up. The Edison Company had used the medium close-up before, such as in "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze", which wasn't released commercially, but the photographs of it appeared in a "Harper's Weekly" article.

This scene is also from the conclusion of the musical comedy "The Widow Jones", a play by John J. McNally that had premièred the previous year. The Edison filmmakers were obsessed with vaudeville performances, especially dancing, and Alfred Clark had already introduced professional theatrical actors to film with his few historical reenactments, such as "The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots" (1895). Nevertheless, "The Kiss" was new territory for the Edison Company in that it's based on a theatrical play and featured credited professional actors. More than a decade later, various filmmakers attempted to marry cinema and the stage and essentially make film a travesty of theatre.

Most remarkable of "The Kiss", however, is that it was a very popular scene. Charles Musser has claimed it was their most popular film of 1896. A March 1898 Catalogue indicates it had an even lengthier period of popularity: "This subject has met with unequaled success on the Kinetoscope or projecting machine." It remained in the Edison catalogues until at least 1901, it appears. The rather new subject matter, its theatrical source and the use of the medium close-up surely led to its popularity. The film must have been quite a novelty when projected on the screen to patrons whose experience, if any, heretofore had been with long shot framing of film subjects.

William Heise photographed "The Kiss" in April 1896 at the "Black Maria" studio. The Edison Company made the film at the behest of "The New York World" newspaper, and the photographs appeared in its Sunday edition on 26 April. It nearly took up a page under the article "The Anatomy of a Kiss". As the article demonstrates, May Irwin and John C. Rice rehearsed the scene, especially the timing, before being filmed. The film appeared on the screen during the second week of the Vitascope's New York run. It was a hit; contemporary reviews paid it special mention similar to that of another blockbuster film of the time, "Rough Sea at Dover". Contemporary reviews also note that it appeared prominently at the beginning or end of exhibitors' programs.

According to Musser ("Before the Nickelodeon"), Edison Company film sales soared during 1896-1897, from $18,616 in 1895-1896 to $84,771. By 1898-1899, sales had fallen to $41,207. These numbers are surely tied largely to the novelty of the Vitascope and then the fading away of its novelty, but it's interesting to note how they also correspond to the circulation of "The Kiss", which, indeed, has been claimed to be the company's bestseller during the period.

Another thing I've noticed about "The Kiss", but for which I haven't found mention of elsewhere, is that there are two versions of it available today; they appear to be mirror images of each other. The Library of Congress paper print features Rice to the left of Irwin, but another print features him to the right of her. Perhaps, the latter is a result of mishandled copying of an original print. Musser has mentioned that the film was photographed only once, and "The New York World" article seems to support that statement. Moreover, the prints appear too similar for one of them to have been a remake. In 1900, however, the Edison Company would remake "The Kiss", but with a different couple. The kiss has been a movie staple ever since.


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