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 18 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 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.
The film contained the very first kiss on film, with a close-up of a nuzzling couple followed by a short peck on the lips (“the mysteries of the kiss revealed”). The kissing scene 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.
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.”
Perhaps in defiance and “to spice up a film”, this was followed by many kiss imitators, including The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) and The Kiss (1900).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