Thursday, November 01, 2007

Kissing: When George Met Mary

Happy November 1 to you all. It is I, Piper, editor, camera operator, usher, ticket-taker, curator, and concession attendant of the Lazy Eye Theatre. It is my honor to help Nathaniel while he is away, and it is my pleasure to continue a new series on Film Experience called “Kissing” not to be confused with another series "Cussing" which is to come later in the year (don't bet on that last idea). I am told I can write about anything as it relates to kissing, which is quite intimidating really because there are so many things to write about when writing about kissing. Naturally, I went to my funny place, but couldn’t think of any funny kiss that was really worth mentioning. Then I wanted to write about the worst kiss in movie history (Stallone and Stone in The Specialist?), but the truth is I’m kind of a softy when it comes to the love arena, so I wanted to take a serious approach to this series. So I thought about movie kisses in general and I decided I don’t really like them. Why? Because I just don’t buy most of them. How can I? I’m not the one kissing or being kissed. Wouldn’t it be great if we could kiss all these beautiful stars so that we would know if they were good kissers. Like is Kate Winslet a good kisser? Or Rachel Weisz? I might call each of them and see if I can set up five minutes to find out.

To me the magic of a kiss doesn’t really happen with the kiss at all. It happens in the moments leading up to the kiss. I compare it to a Dirty Harry movie with a really good bad guy. The purpose of every Dirty Harry movie is to set up a bad guy, make him super bad and then kill him off in the end. If the bad guy isn’t bad enough, there isn’t the satisfaction when he gets killed, so you have to make him really bad and kill him really good. Same thing goes with a kiss. Building to a really good kiss is what it’s all about. If those moments before the kiss aren't good, the kiss isn't either.

So most movie kisses fail because they don’t allow for those moments that build to a perfect kiss. Because a kiss is really everything. Movies today use the sex scene as the ultimate declaration of love, but a good kiss is really the truth. So I guess that’s why I am constantly struck by the kiss between George (Jimmy Stewart) and Mary (Donna Reed) in Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In the movie, you really feel that George wants to kiss Mary, but more than that you feel like Jimmy wants to kiss Donna. And that’s what sells me on the scene. It’s real. As the two of them listen in on a phone call from old pal Sam Wainwright, they wiggle and squirm because they are unsure what will happen next. There’s obviously chemistry between the two and Capra holds the scene long enough so that when George finally grabs Mary and kisses her, there are sparks. The actual kiss is clumsy, short and not even shot that well but what makes it magic are the moments before it. And in my book, that makes for a mighty good kiss.


Burbanked said...

This topic occurred to me the first time I saw What Women Want. While watching it, I knew I 1) wasn't liking it particularly, 2) never bought into the premise of what women's inner dialogue could POSSIBLY sound like, 3) hated more or less every minute that "Oscar winner" Helen Hunt was on screen.

But man. Gibson and Hunt did some seriously excellent kissing in that movie. And the revelation that I had was that true movie stars know how to kiss like nobody's business. Or at least they know how to simulate how we think kissing should be, in an ideal world.

That over-qualifies my point, which is also part of my point. Movie kissing is usually idealized to the max - the lighting, the angle, the music swelling, the close-ups - but when it's done right, in the correct context, it can be wonderfully magic in the way that only true cinema can.

The fact that I felt so removed from the greater context of What Women Want by simply watching these two actors do it right is, I think, a true indication of why the overall movie doesn't work. You're either watching a pair of actors act well, or you're experiencing a special, intimate moment between two characters you've come to care about.

And, of course, there's the reverse: the horrifying, cringe-inducing revolt-o-macking between Steven Seagal and Erika Eleniak at the end of Under Siege. There couldn't have been enough booze on-set to make that scene comfortable enough for that poor, misguided girl.

PIPER said...

Good points burbanked,

Yes, movie kisses are too perfect which is why I liked this kiss so much. It feels very spontaneous and passionate and that's what made it real.

Anonymous said...

I would submit the first kiss between Rock and Adrian as one of the greats, for the same reasons described already.

Deborah said...

That kiss in IAWL is one of my all time favorite movie kisses. It's up there in my top three: Notorious (on the balcony), and Somewhere in Time (holy SHIT).

Catherine said...

The Big Sleep has some great kisses. The muddled plot is so head-scratching, I just concentrate on the sexual tension. My favourite kiss is when Bacall herself intigates it, when Bogie's tied up.