Tuesday, September 27, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0019 - KISS, THE (William Heise, 1896, USA, 1m, BW)


(William Heise, 1896, USA, 1m, BW)

KISS, THE (William Heise, 1896, USA, 1m, BW)

Directed by William Heise
Starring May Irwin, John Rice
Camera: William Heise
Distributed by Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Release dates 1896
Running time: 18 seconds
Country: United States
Language: Silent


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.

Scene from the New York stage comedy, The widow Jones, in which Irwin and Rice starred. According to Edison film historian C. Musser, the actors staged their kiss for the camera at the request of the New York world newspaper, and the resulting film was the most popular Edison Vitascope film in 1896. Filmed April 1896, in Edison's Black Maria studio.

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.

This is the first ever moving picture image of a kiss. It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. There is a longer Edison film of a kiss, filmed in 1900, that has at times been confused with this one.


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.

William Heise

William Heise was an American film cinematographer and director, active in the 1890s and credited for more than 175 short silent films. Heise is best known for "directing" The Kiss, an 1896 short film that depicted a kiss between May Irwin and John Rice. Direction, at this early stage in cinema, consisted mainly of pointing a stationary camera in one direction and capturing whatever action transpired within the frame. Along with W. K. L. Dickson, Heise was one of the most prolific filmmakers of the nascent days of cinema. He worked with Dickson on many of the early shorts, capturing numerous scenes of everyday life as well as different aspects of performance and sport. He served as cinematographer on 1894's Bucking Broncho and many others.

William Heise was W.K-L. Dickson's 'right-hand man' in the development of the Edison Kinetoscope. Listed in the account books for 1890 Kinetoscope work as 'machinist' - he made the first experimental film perforator for Dickson - Heise went on to take an important part in the development of the first succesful motion picture system. He operated the Kinetograph camera for many filming sessions from the earliest days, and can be seen in several photographs relating to Kinetoscope production, and as Black Maria studio cameraman in drawings in The Century magazine (June 1894) and Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (Feb 1895). He also has the distinction of appearing in what researcher Hendricks has called 'The first "modern" motion picture in America', shaking hands with Dickson in a brief test that was reproduced in The Phonogram in October 1892.

When Dickson left Edison's employment in April 1895, Heise continued to produce films for the Kinetoscope and later the Vitascope, including a number of artistes from Barnam & Bailey's Circus in May that year, and the popular cameo the May Irwin Kiss of 1896. From May 1896 Heise was able to use a newly-constructed portable camera, and Edison film production was freed from the constraints of the Black Maria. Scenes of Herald Square, Central Park, and the Elevated Railway, 23rd Street, New York, were among the first subjects, followed by sequences taken on a trip to Niagara falls, scenes at Coney Island, short comedies and military subjects.

Working with new head of the filming department James White, Heise continued as an Edison cameraman, filming many subjects (some of them imitations of popular Biograph and Lumière films) such as the train film The Black Diamond Express, and embarking on a major expedition to record President William McKinley's inauguration. With White off around the world for ten months in 1897/8, Heise produced twenty-five copyrighted subjects, including winter scenes in February 1898. He left Edison's employ in October that year, though he was shortly to return in a non-film role.

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