March 14, 1900 [The New Kiss]

We're only a few months into the new century, but the old one persists, at least in the cinema—although a millennial shift is felt in The New Kiss. Of course, the cinema has imitated itself before: How many "bad boy" comedies, scenes of arriving (and departing) trains, real and staged fires can it now "boast"?—not to mention its many "borrowings"—and not only by Edison filching from the Lumières, but Mutoscope and Biograph in turn copying Edison; but perhaps we cannot entirely call it theft. A kind of almost-benign incest is working itself into legitimacy, as though the moving picture industry, arbiter of its own morality, were instantly forming a tradition, as any art inevitably does, from which all kinds of borrowings and references and re-workings combine—again, though, not in decades-long movements, as Turner's Romantic landscapes eventually deferred to Manet, who himself leads us to Monet, Matisse, and all those painters who today have transformed the label "Impressionism" from an insult to a rallying-cry. But the motion picture is impatient (after all, it moves), and so it wants its heresies to become traditions in mere weeks, accelerating "film culture" as easily as it can the film spooling from the projector.

I hope only that the result is better—or at least more consistently watchable—cinema, the cinematographic equivalent of Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy becoming Hamlet—or that cinema will create its own magnificent inspirations as one instant motion-picture-age follows another, as the Odyssey became the Aeneid—or as Genesis became Paradise Lost.

Of course (and unfortunately), cinema has yet to find its Shakespeares, its Virgils, its Miltons—which does not lessen the achievements of Muybridge, Edison, the Lumières, and others. But they have applied mere mechanical technology to the rules that have governed pictorial representation and the composition within a frame. Perhaps, then, the first cinematographic artists will rise within the ranks of the technicians themselves; like any of the arts, the technical will merge with technique and—I write without over-much embarrassment—"genius" to give us more than, for instance, The New Kiss.

My first thought was that this version is merely a bit longer, a bit more intimate (the woman seems especially taken with the opportunity of being kissed—and kissing—with regularity); but in another sense not so, having lost the spontaneity of the original Irwin-Rice moment—or something more: again that word, "experience." The first Kiss seemed a living thing, and powerful, changing in mere seconds much within me. This new Kiss reminds us of its original, but does not re-imagine it, nor does it even hint it desires to. If it adds something new, it is the man's insistence on looking at the camera, even winking at the audience. At first it seemed we, in being acknowledged as spectators, were being invited into the moment. But his demeanor seemed proprietary, his wink a sign of his favored position within the camera itself—and so, having been acknowledged, we are actually distanced, made to see that we are explicitly viewers—and almost illicitly so. Our posture as we bent to view the already-old Kinetescope "peephole" now becomes discomfiting as we sit and watch the projected image; and this scolding moment may actually be quite significant: Already the cinema asks us to recognize our role, as we conspire with the camera to conjure and control these silent ghosts. If, then, we are to find cinema genius, it seems we'll have to look not merely behind the camera and on the screen, but in the audience itself. We will all have to make room for this leap—forward? into the dark? We shall, if I may state the obvious, see.


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