The First Kiss in Cinema, 1896

Thomas Edison  is responsible for some of the most significant technological innovations of modern history, and is even credited as the inventor of the movie industry itself. But besides his visionary take on technology, he also had a keen eye for what audiences wanted, from his YouTube-like 1894  boxing cats  to his 1901 footage of legendary aerialist  Charmion's trapeze strip-tease. It comes as no surprise, then, that Edison is also responsible for the very first on-screen kiss in cinema, featuring Canadian actress  May Irwin. A mere 23 seconds in length, it was filmed in his  Black Maria  studio in New Jersey in 1896, at a time when public kissing was greatly frowned upon by Victorian society. In that era, the act of kissing was referred to as "sparkin'" if it took place indoors, usually the parlor, or "spoonin'" when performed outdoors, in a secluded spot far from the public's eye. 

This footage is often confused with another kiss scene, mistakenly credited by some as the first cinematic appearance of a kiss—it was, however, filmed in 1900 in Edison's new glass-topped studio in New York City, and was quickly banned in most theaters. The two lovers remain anonymous.

For more on the evolution of kissing, see Joanne Wannan's  Kisstory: A Sweet and Sexy Look at the History of Kissing. For a scientific lens, my friend Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote the excellent  The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us

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This post appears courtesy of Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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