Giving lip: the power of the on-screen kiss
BEYOND the soft focus lenses, the overwrought soundtracks and the breathless small talk between lip locks, kissing provide a fascinating glimpse of representations of desire, sexuality, and the erotic.
And who gets to kiss, and who doesn’t, reveals a complex dynamic of censorship and subversion across screen histories and cultures.
The humble kiss has figured in its fair share of censorship debates over time. These debates have usually centred on whether the kiss should be represented at all, as well as a monitoring of the content and duration of the amorous scene.
In some screen cultures, you’ll never see a romantic kiss. As in Iranian cinema, which follows Islamic codes of conduct, though directors still find ways to push the censorship code and provide representations of tender touch.
Similarly, Bollywood often defers or displaces the kiss onto a range of visual symbols.
The duration of the kiss has also been a point of contention across cinema histories. From the early 1930s to the late 1960s, American film production was subjected to a review and censorship process under the Hays Code.
The code detailed a number of rules and regulations regarding the depiction of topics such as crime, violence, and sex, in order to ensure a certain standard of “wholesome entertainment for all the people”.
The unofficial rule of thumb was that a kiss should not last longer than three seconds, in order to curb representations of excessive passion on-screen. But filmmakers found clever ways of subverting those rules.
The kiss has become a contested terrain where the very principles of this censure can be subverted by filmmakers to expand the politics of representation.
It’s through the kiss that we can map a move towards more expansive and inclusive depictions of desire and love on-screen.
So a kiss is not just a kiss, after all, as time goes by.