The Kiss (1896 film)  

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"Now I want to smash The Vitascope. The name of the thing is in itself a horror, but that may pass. Its manifestations are worse. The Vitascope be it known, is a sort of magic lantern which reproduces movement. Whole scenes are enacted on its screen. La Loie dances, elevated trains come and go, and the thing is mechanically ingenious, and a pretty toy for that great child, the public.

Its managers were not satisfied with this, however, and they bravely set out to eclipse in vulgarity all previous theatrical attempts.

In a recent play called The Widow Jones you may remember a famous kiss which Miss May Irwin bestowed on a certain John C. Rice, and vice versa. Neither participant is physically attractive, and the spectacle of their prolonged pasturing on each other's lips was hard to bear. When only life-size it was pronouncedly beastly. But that was nothing to the present sight. Magnified to Gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting. All delicacy or remnant of charm seems gone from Miss Irwin, and the performance comes very near being indecent in its emphasized vulgarity.

Such things call for police interference. Our cities from time to time have spasms of morality, when they arrest people for displaying lithographs of ballet-girls ; yet they permit night after night a performance which is infinitely more degrading. The immorality of living pictures and bronze statues is nothing to this. The Irwin kiss is no more than a lyric of the Stock Yards. While we tolerate such things, what avails all the talk of American Puritanism and of the filthiness of imported English and French stage shows?" --The Chap-Book, June 15, 1896, Sources [1] attribute this to John Sloan.

The Kiss (1896) by  William Heise
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The Kiss (1896) by William Heise

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Kiss (also known as The May Irwin Kiss, The Rice-Irwin Kiss and The Widow Jones) is an 1896 actuality, and was one of the first films ever shown commercially to the public. The film is around 47 seconds long, and depicts a re-enactment of the kiss between May Irwin and John Rice from the final scene of the stage musical, The Widow Jones. The film caused a scandalized uproar and occasioned disapproving newspaper editorials and calls for police action in many places where it was shown. One contemporary critic wrote: "The spectacle of the prolonged pasturing on each other's lips was beastly enough in life size on the stage but magnified to gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting."

The Edison catalogue advertised it thus: "They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time."

The film was directed by William Heise for Thomas Edison. At the time Edison was working at the Black Maria studios in West Orange, New Jersey. In 1999 the short was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Public exposure

The Kiss was projected in West End Park, Ottawa, on July 21, 1896, and was long thought to be the first film publicly shown in Canada. However, the competing Lumière Brothers Cinematograph had already exhibited different films in Montreal on June 27, 1896.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Kiss (1896 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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