by Sorcha Blaine
Once upon a time nobody knew how to kiss. Then,
around 1900, a film was made showing a man who looked
(for the times) very handsome and a woman who
looked (for the times) very saucey. And...they...kissed.
It was a scandal. Kissing had previously been consigned
to the bedroom and suddenly there it was out in front of
everybody: Lipstouching. The short film is still hard to
watch, not because of its lewd content but because 100 years
later -- 100 years of movies later -- that kiss looks
painful. A lip-lock. A face-smash. A conch-crunch. But all
fairy tales need a beginning and it was a start. How did we get
from there to here?
There were no good kisses in movies in the '20's and '30's.
In the 1920's Valentino came the closest but his was more of
a face-smoosh. Also a paucity of puckers in the 1930's.
(Honorable Mention goes to the famous 1939 Rhett-Scarlet embrace.
Rhett tells her ?ou need to be kissed and often and by someone
who knows how.? Unfortunately, he wasn't really talking about
kissing so it doesn't count.)
I've studied the available data and come to one inescapable
conclusion: REAL kissing didn't begin in REAL
life until it began in the movies. Climbing further out on the
limb: REAL kissing in films began about nine months
before baby boomers began booming into view. Coincidence?
I think not.
Blame Alfred Hitchcock
While making the movie Notorious with Cary Grant and
Ingrid Bergman, the director wanted Grant and Bergman to have
a long, smoldering kiss. However, the Hays Office - the official
censor of the Hollywood film industry - had a rule that limited the
length of onscreen kisses to around 5 seconds. Mr. Hays squared off
against Mr. Hitchcock. Mr. Hitchcock blinked. Then found a way
around it. He had Grant and Bergman exchange short kisses in close-up,
their faces never more than inches apart. The effect was more intimate
than the single kiss would have been. It was as if they couldn't bear
to be far enough apart to breathe. As if they needed one another's
oxygen to survive. And that, my friends, was The Birth of the
Buss. Notorious was released in 1946 - the beginning
of the baby boomer years. Coincidence?
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in love in close-up --
Squeezed together, looking like male and female versions of the
same person; their breathing space limited by their beauty -- "Tell
mama," Taylor whispers. "Tell mama all." And...they...kiss.
Later, as Clift is being lead to his execution, he remembers that
moment over and over -- reminding himself that a kiss was worth
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Burt Lancaster -- in a uniform that looks spraypainted on --- saves
Montgomery Clift from a court marshall -- holds Frank Sinatra while
he dies -- scares Ernest Borgnine into dropping a knife -- forces
open an ammunitions locker during Pearl Harbor. What makes him
- literally - fall helpless to his knees? The opportunity to kiss Deborah
Kerr on the beach.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Thief was a bouquet of kisses. Cary kisses Grace in a car. Cary
kisses Grace during a fireworks display. Pretty people and pretty
tame kisses. The reason I include the movie is because of the moment
when Grace kisses Cary. Why does she do it? Because she feels
like it. How radical an idea was that for 1955?
This kiss isn't seen. Lancaster is in love with Jean Simmons, a religious
speaker. On the beach one night, she tries to convince him that they
can never be more than friends. As she explains he nods, agreeing with
everything she's saying, all the while leading her into the darkness under
the boardwalk. They disappear. The next time we see her she's pouring
sand out of her shoes and giggling.
One Last Kiss
I'm not sure where the good kisses went; they can't all have disappeared
under the boardwalk. It sure seems like I haven't seen one lately, though.
Maybe when naked skin appeared on screen, lipstouching seemed quaint,
a hint of more to come rather than an end in itself. The focus has gone to
the steak and left behind the sizzle.