The Kiss (1896)
Director: William Heise
Cast: May Irwin, John C. Rice
Synopsis: Two people kiss.
It’s difficult to believe this early film from the Edison studio caused such a huge amount of controversy upon its release in 1896. The Kiss, sometimes known as the May Irwin Kiss, or The Rice-Irwin Kiss, is a re-enactment from the final scene of the stage musical The Widow Jones, and consists entirely of a medium close-up shot of May Irwin and John C. Rice recreating their stage roles of the Widow Jones and Billie Bikes. We see the pair cuddled up together as they talk quite intimately, faces almost touching. Eventually they pull slightly away from each other to prepare themselves for the momentous occasion, with Rice briskly sweeping his moustache before going in. The actual kiss itself lasts no more than a second — it’s more of a peck, really — and the only objection you could imagine anyone having to such an innocuous event is the fact that May Irwin can, at best, be described as rather homely.
Of course there’s nothing like a little moral outrage from the more reactionary members of society to get everyone else queuing up to see what they’re getting themselves all hot and bothered about, and all that controversy worked wonders for the film’s popularity. It was still doing the rounds as late as 1901. In fact, Edison made another version in 1900 — using considerably more attractive actors, it has to be said — which must conceivably qualify as the first official movie remake.
The Kiss is worth a look for its historical importance — it was the first kiss ever recorded on screen — although time has inevitably blunted its impact.
(Reviewed 24th July 2014)