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One Day

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Screen Kisses: From The Kiss to One Day

The Kiss of Cinema

At the beginning of One Day, when recently acquainted Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) turn to embrace and kiss on an empty Edinburgh street, the moment is mesmerizing. In all great kisses, like Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic “V-J Day in Times Square,” the moment feels at once fully present and frozen in time and memory. While kissing has been around (we hope) since time’s beginning, representing romantic kissing is a pretty recent affair.  Although there are notable exceptions –– like Giotto di Bondone’s 1266 “Legend of St Joachim, Meeting at the Golden Gate” –– the romantic kiss really started to pop up in paintings, sculpture and photography in the 19th and 20th century. In 1896, the kiss was first planted on the face of cinema. And there it found its greatest medium. From the moment when May Irwin and John Rice puckered up for Edison’s cameras onward, filmmakers have been trying to capture the perfect kiss, that moment of embrace, at once fleeting and forever remembered. A kiss may be still a kiss, but as we find out, some kisses are more memorable than others. 

The Kiss (1896)

When the Edison Company first starting making films, they invited all sorts of talent (actors, professional boxers, rodeo stars, etc.) to perform in their Black Maria studio in New Jersey. In 1896, theater performers May Irwin and John Rice, who were at that time appearing in the stage musical “The Widow Jones,” traveled down from New York City to re-enact the kiss from the play’s last scene.  The resulting film, titled “The Kiss," was described in the Edison Catalog as such: “They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time.” Few anticipated how big an impact this little theatrical peck would have. The 47-second long film became a huge hit, raising the profile of the two actors and pushing their play into a national tour. The kiss also sparked condemnation. One social critic complained, “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 Son of the Sheik (1926)

In 1921, a struggling actor named Rudolph Valentino was cast in The Sheik. The sand-and-sandals erotic fantasy proved not only a runaway hit, but also launched the young actor as a global icon. For years, the film –– and the character –– would define the heartthrob, so much so that he later complained, "I wanted to make a lot of money, and so I let them play me up as a lounge lizard, a soft, handsome devil whose only sin in life was to sit around and be admired by women…[but] I am through with sheiking." Yet in 1926, as his career started to flag, Valentino returned to “sheiking,” starring both as the father and son in the sequel The Son of the Sheik. The film’s famous kiss seduction made women, and a few men, swoon all over again. The American poet and film reviewer Carl Sandburg wrote, “The comeback of Rudolph Valentino in the Son of the Sheik is all that can be asked for by those who were accustomed at one time to rank him highest, those who first gave him the nickname of 'the great lover.'” Indeed the film would have reclaimed Valentino’s title as the “great lover” if fate had not delivered the kiss of death. Less than a month after the film’s premiere, Valentino was dead from an attack of peritonitis.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney's first feature-length animated production, would define the Disney brand for years to come. Walt Disney himself oversaw all parts of production, going so far as to scrap years of work when the film’s initial direction wasn’t to his liking. For Disney, the film was all about the animation. He originally picked this story because, as he wrote in initial notes, “with most of the action taking place in and around the dwarfs' cottage in the woods...there were good opportunities for introducing appealing little birds and animals." Adapted from the Grimm Brothers “Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge,” Disney’s version cleared out most of the folk tale’s darkness and potentially perverse interpretations. In the original Grimm story, the prince had never met Snow White before viewing her sleeping corpse and kissing it. To avoid even a hint of impropriety, Disney had the two meet earlier on, so that when the prince kisses Snow White, he kisses someone he has already fallen in love with, and not just a supine corpse in a glass coffin he stumbles upon in the middle of the forest.

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Adapted by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner from an Ernest Hemingway novel, Howard Hawks’ adventure yarn To Have and Have Not featured Humphrey Bogart and a 19-year-old Lauren Bacall in her first film. Howard Hawks’ wife brought Bacall to the director’s attention after seeing her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. The fear that the ingénue might be a little young for the 45-year-old male lead was quickly dispelled by their on-screen chemistry, a red-hot attraction that soon proved as powerful in real life as it was on the screen. Bogart soon left his wife for Bacall. Interestingly, the whistle scene that comes after the kiss was never part of the script. Hawks improvised it as a screen test, but when it proved so compelling he added it to the film. The kissing scene soon became a cultural touch point. In Robert Clampett’s 1946 animated Warner Brothers short “Bacall to Arms,” Bogart’s line “What did you do that for?" prompts a duck in the audience to bob up and quack, “"I know why, Daddy! I know why!"

Notorious (1946)

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, Cary Grant plays a government agent who falls for Ingrid Bergman, the daughter of a Nazi sympathizer, after he convinces her to spy for the United States. In Brazil, Grant falls hard for his spy protégé, and the seduction is captured by a kissing scene that became famous for thumbing its nose at censorship rules. At the time, the Production Code dictated that no on-screen kiss could be longer than 3 seconds. In the scene, Bergman and Grant engage in a 2 ½ minute make-out scene by cooing, nuzzling and talking in between their 3-second kisses. The actors were choreographed like dancers to be sure that every action in the kissing scene’s long takes kept to the 3-second rule.

From Here to Eternity (1953)

When Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn bought James Jones' 800-page sprawling epic From Here to Eternity for $82,000, Hollywood insiders quickly dubbed the project “Harry Cohn’s Folly” since many felt it would be impossible to bring to the screen. Hard enough was condensing the book into a feature-length film, but getting the United States Army to cooperate on a story that was explicitly anti-military seemed insurmountable. But Cohn and director Fred Zinnemann did the impossible, including showcasing an adulterous affair by incorporating the sizzling beach “make out” scene with Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster. Social critics condemned the scene not only for its portrayal of infidelity, but because Kerr was on top. The scene became so famous that today Hawaiian tourist buses make that part of the beach where the kiss takes place a regular stop on their sightseeing tours. The role of Karen Holmes, the neglected wife of the Capt. Dana “Dynamite” Holmes, helped change Kerr’s good-girl reputation; she later quipped, “I don’t think anyone knew I could act until I put on a bathing suit.” But the scene goes beyond simple passion to suggest even more profound forces at work. As The New Yorker critic David Denby highlighted in his remembrance of Kerr: “The famous kiss in the surf is memorable because it represents the triumph of desire over bitterness and fear.”

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

While Walt Disney’s animated feature Lady and the Tramp didn’t come out till 1955, the inspiration for it came some 30 years earlier in 1925, when Walt, apologizing to his wife for his long work hours, gave her a cocker spaniel puppy in a hatbox. The story progressed in starts and stops for years, finally emerging as Disney’s first animated feature based on an original story. Frank Thompson, one of Disney’s famous Nine Old Men, created the now-classic spaghetti scene. Over times it has emerged as one of Disney’s most beloved scenes, parodied (with much love) in films like Hot Shots! Part Deux and Wayne's World II, as well on TV in The Simpsons.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

In Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, a kissing scene between Marilyn Monroe (as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk) and Tony Curtis (playing a sexually frustrated millionaire) depended on audience being hyperaware of the sex-goddess status of Monroe. After Curtis registers no sensation from being kissed by Monroe, she exclaims: “I may not be Dr. Freud or a Mayo brother, or one of those French upstairs girls, but could I take another crack at it?” For Wilder, the idea that a red-blooded man could not being effected by being kissed by Marilyn Monroe was the joke. But during production the joke was on the actors. As Tony Curtis later recalled in his memoir The Making of Some Like It Hot, “what happened was I got an erection, an erection that would have killed an ordinary man. And there was no way that Marilyn wouldn't notice it…Billy kept shooting straight through.”

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

Stanley Kramer’s liberal-hearted drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is filled with lots of talking about civil rights and race relations. Sidney Poitier talks to his white fiancé (played by Katharine Houghton), and her parents (played by Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn) can’t stop talking about it. But when it comes to showing it, the film was very shy. The only interracial kiss in the movie takes place in the rearview mirror of a cab bringing the couple from the airport to San Francisco. Kramer, however, shot quite a few passionate kisses between Poitier and Houghton, but only one made it into the final film. As Poitier joked to a radio station about his excised kissing scene, “I suggest that your listeners hurry down to the theater and see the scene, and just…take some aspirins with them.”

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Among other things, Franklin J. Schaffner’s adaptation of Pierre Boulle's fantasy novel Planet of the Apes is a triumph of make up and special effects. Creating masks that convincingly suggested the evolution of a simian race was a monumental task in 1968. Charlton Heston, who plays the American astronaut who lands on the planet of the apes, later acknowledged that “it was really terribly unpleasant for the people playing the apes." But the makeup was convincing enough that one could side with Kim Hunter, who plays the ape psychologist Zira, when she responds to a request for a kiss by Heston, “All right…but you’re so damned ugly.” For Heston, the illusion of the kiss was even greater since, as he said, "It was very, very curious. You're a long way from the inside of her mouth -- about 3½  inches."

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

In John Schlesinger’s 1971 Sunday Bloody Sunday, the romantic triangle between a doctor (Peter Finch), his bisexual lover, Bob (Murray Hill), and Bob’s female lover (Glenda Jackson) was shocking to many primarily because Schlesinger refused to sensationalize the romantic entanglement. One of the film’s most powerful moments is the kiss between the two men, primarily because it was treated so nonchalantly. When the film came out, journalists hounded Peter Finch with horrified questions like “How did you handle that?” Finch, tongue firmly in cheek, snapped back, “I just closed my eyes and thought of England.” In the original script, penned by New Yorker film critic Penelope Gilliatt, the kiss was set in long shot and silhouette. But Schlesinger insisted that it be handled without any fanfare. “That kiss was going to be in close-up or not at all…I wanted it as big and as natural as any kiss that’s been on the screen.”

Sixteen Candles (1984)

With his directorial debut Sixteen Candles, John Hughes pushed both himself and his teen muse Molly Ringwald into the forefront of public consciousness. The suburban fairy tale of a girl whose parents forget her sixteenth birthday reaches a “happily ever after” conclusion when Jake (Michael Schoeffling), the boy of her dreams, rescues her. In the final scene, with The Thompson Twins singing “If You Were Here” behind them, Samantha (Ringwald) sits on a dining table opposite Jake, with a birthday cake between them. In the end, she gets to both eat her cake and kiss her boy. However, according to Carol Lampert, who loaned Universal the house to shoot it, “They weren’t supposed to film in the dining room…they scratched the hell out of the dining table.” But the house owner got her sweet revenge when she helped herself to one of the prop cakes, which she applauded as “the most delicious cakes I have ever tasted.” Also, Universal replaced her dining room table.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

My Beautiful Laundrette was filmed in London in 1985 for less than $850,000 by a group of relative unknowns. Director Stephen Frears had come from TV; the writer, Hanif Kureishi, had never had a screenplay produced; and one of the leads, Daniel Day-Lewis, had only showed up in a bit part in a small film. But the film’s complicated take on race and sexuality got everyone involved international attention and acclaim. The film’s simmering racial and cultural conflicts came to a boil in the kiss between the working-class white boy (played by Day-Lewis) and Pakistani laundry owner Omar (Gordon Warnecke). Some, like the Pakistan Action Committee who protested the film in New York City, complained that the film was "the product of a vile and perverted mind." Others, like Guardian writer Matthew Hays, found that kiss a revelation: “I first watched the scene where Gordon Warnecke, as Omar, and Daniel Day-Lewis, as Johnny, passionately lock lips in the laundrette when I was a teenager. I can speak for the vast majority of gay men of my generation when I say My Beautiful Laundrette was an incredibly liberating moment.”

Ghost (1990)

Ghost would have been simply a popular tearjerker if it wasn’t for the filmmakers’ skill in bring romance to the recently dead. In the story, Sam (Patrick Swayze) must leave his beloved wife, Molly (Demi Moore), when he is murdered during a mugging. But with the help of a medium (played by Whoopi Goldberg), the dead Sam finds a way to still express his love to Molly. In one of the strangest and most moving cinematic kisses, the dead Sam locks lips with the living Molly. As critic Roger Ebert points out, “The movie's single best scene –– one that does touch the poignancy of the human belief in life after death –– comes when Swayze is able to take over Goldberg's body, to use her physical presence as an instrument for caressing the woman that he loves. (In strict logic, this should involve us seeing Goldberg kissing Moore, but of course the movie compromises and shows us Swayze holding her –– too bad, because the logical version would actually have been more spiritual and moving.)”

Spider-Man (2002)

In Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker, a shy teen whose life is turned upside down when he’s infected with the DNA of a genetically altered spider. As a superhero, he finds a way to express his love for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), even if he can’t reveal his true identity. Parker drops down like a spider, removing his mask only enough to kiss his beloved. After the film came out, Maguire admitted he wasn’t sure how the kiss would turn out (especially with rain pouring down his face and up his nose): "I couldn’t breathe out of my mouth…so I had to hold my breath while kissing her." But the kiss proved so iconic that it continues to be admired and parodied.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

In Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, the impassioned kiss that take place between Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) when they reunite years after that memorable summer up on Brokeback Mountain captured everyone’s imagination. Annie Proulx, who wrote the original story, acknowledged that while parts of the tale were difficult to get right, the kissing scene came to her “in its entirety as I drove past the Laramie cement plant.” Moving easily from page to screen, the clinch went on to win Best Kiss at the 2006 MTV Movie Awards.

More From Focus Features:

As Time Goes By
An editorial slideshow of films, like One Day, that show the long evolution of love.
One Day Timeline
Twenty Years, One Day
Our special One Day interactive timeline looks back at Emma and Dex's lives during 1988 - 2007.

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