Cinematic Firsts: The First Kiss - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Cinematic Firsts: The First Kiss

Down with this sort of thing!

If you've seen the episode of The Big Bang Theory titled The Tesla Recoil, you may recall Sheldon claiming that Thomas Edison was too self-promoting. He also electrocuted an elephant named Topsy and was the first pornographer! Why, you ask? Because Edison filmed the first ever kiss. (I guess it was all downhill from there).

Indeed, when The Kiss (also known as The May Irwin Kiss, The Rice-Irwin Kiss and The Widow Jones) was released to the public in 1896 it was denounced as shocking and obscene to early moviegoers and caused the Roman Catholic Church to call for censorship and moral reform - because kissing in public at the time could lead to prosecution.

In promotion for the 18 second film the Edison catalogue advertised it this way:
"They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time."
Crikey! We should watch this, right? Well OK then...

Er? Was that it? Very. Different. Times!

The film was directed by William Heise for Thomas Edison. The film was produced in April 1896 at the Edison Studios of Edison (there's that self-promoting streak shining through). It depicts a re-enactment of the kiss between May Irwin and John Rice from the final scene of the stage musical The Widow Jones. It's little more than a close-up of a nuzzling couple followed by a short peck on the lips, but 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 it is absolutely disgusting."
Really. Very. Different. Times!

As well as disapproving newspaper editorials, The Kiss caused a scandalised uproar and calls for police action in many places where it was shown. And there were many places. It was sold to exhibitors for $7.50 ($230 in 2020), with many theaters playing it at the end of every show. Byt the end of 1896 the kiss had become the most popular Edison Vitascope picture.

Proof, if you ever need it, that sex sells!

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