Giv­ing lip: the power of the on-screen kiss

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ - — Athena Bel­las, The Con­ver­sa­tion

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.

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