It happens every New Year's Eve as people all over the world, across cultures and continents, countdown to a midnight kiss. It's the chance to kiss on a turning point as the magical minute marks both happy endings and new beginnings with a brush of the lips. That kiss can be consequential. It can be a movie kiss.
It's been a while since I wrote "Ode to a First Kiss". That Los Angeles Times Calendar Weekend cover story seems to have taken on a life of its own as amorous readers found its message hit a nerve. The feature article celebrated some of the greatest first kisses in film history, while bemoaning the fact that the fine art of the first kiss seemed to have been lost in cinema as well as life. Not a lot has changed since then as the current crop of film kisses attest. But it's a new year, and the stars are aligned for romance.
To paraphrase that paragon of celestial affection Albert Einstein: "We are all related under the stars, because we are all made of stardust." Think of the kiss as the physics of love, a way to connect with the universe through the energy of another soul. It tunes you to the cosmos, while promising possibilities for better days. Think Cinderella as the clock strikes twelve, shoes firmly on feet and a prince on her lips. Sure beats kissing a frog - unless you're a frog yourself. So if you're wondering how to get the most bang from your big kiss buck, while the stars above light your path, why not let the stars on the silver screen show you the way. As if scripted for love, this New Year's night features a full moon, a perfect backdrop for that big crystal ball-drop and the perfect kiss. But with the right pair of lips, any moon will do.
In New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, teenage vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) can never kiss Bella (Kristen Stewart), the human love of his eternal life, with complete abandon. To do so could cause him to lose control and devour her - literally. Their frustratingly cautious kisses are a necessity if she is to live for future films. Perhaps that is why teenage girls are so smitten with the series. It promises the romance of adolescent contact without the unwanted threat of adult sex. But what do you expect from a leading man whose primary redeeming quality is restraint? No, for a kiss with real bite, one needs the master of suspense.
Alfred Hitchcock filled his flicks with sensually shot smooches. They abound in films like Notorious, Rear Window and Spellbound (see the above link), but Hitch was just getting warmed up. In To Catch a Thief (1955), ever-debonair Cary Grant escorts the impossibly beautiful Grace Kelly to her hotel room in silence. She's barely uttered a syllable since they've met. She opens her door only to turn back with a confident look of determined sensuality and gives him a kiss that melts his socks as it steams up the screen in a way no ominous shower ever could, then shuts the door, her work done. The satisfied smirk on Grant's face tells us the next time they kiss there will be fireworks.
"If you really want to see fireworks, it's better with the lights out," she'll tease in a later scene as she turns off the room's lamps in preparation for the dazzling display seen out the window. With fireworks as manmade stardust, the metaphor is more fitting than cliché. "Just as long as you're satisfied," she'll say, smiling all kinds of innuendo, before their climactic kiss is intercut with the sparkling explosions in the night sky. With a kiss like that, who wouldn't be satisfied?
Contrast that with the current Up in the Air. George Clooney's barroom banter with curvy Vera Farmiga leads to her post-sex nude scene in which she lounges on the bed while he (only partially seen of course) recovers on the floor. There's no contact, let alone cuddling, as they aren't even on the same level. When they are seen kissing elsewhere, it's in the long shots that inhibit connection. The intimate close-up kiss comes later, in public when, at a wedding reception, Clooney awkwardly leans over to kiss her shoulder. The self-conscious display of his deepening affection is meant to show that the relationship, for him at least, isn't just sexual anymore. It's all very sweet in the moment and works for the film, but if someone kissed me like that at midnight on New Year's Eve, they'd be laid out on the Times Square pavement. His observation, "life's better with company," is an epiphany for the character that alone will have to suffice.
To see the breathtaking kind of epiphany kiss good banter can really lead to, one must go back to 1940. The Philadelphia Story is teaming with verbal fencing as foreplay. As a tipsy Katharine Hepburn babbles on, enamored James Stewart suddenly stops her mouth with the type of good old fashioned movie kiss they apparently don't make anymore. "Golly," is all she manages to exhale as she swoons in his arms. A second kiss gets a "Golly Moses." It takes her breath away...and ours. Golly indeed.
But don't expect to be swept off your feet with our present-day blockbusters. This past year's Star Trek featured a young Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as a romantic item. (Captain's log: Spock has emotions and Uhura has the hots for him!) They'll kiss before he beams off to danger, but it is her superior de-coding language know-how that'll come to the rescue. In the end, unfathomably, she won't even be considered along with Spock and his rival candidates to become Kirk's first officer. Apparently, no amount of smooching or save-the-day skills can break a glass ceiling, even on Starship's progressive Enterprise. Perhaps filmmakers can use the resentment that would logically be born from that realization as the source of the rift that must come between Uhura and Spock if they are to ultimately conform their relationship to that of their older TV characters. A sequel to the prequel awaits. Who kisses in it remains to be seen.
In the meantime, for a kiss between equals, check out the original The Thomas Crown Affair. In that 1968 film, craggily sexy Steve McQueen (will someone please cast Daniel Craig to play him in a biopic?) as a master thief meets his match in stunning Faye Dunaway's insurance investigator. With her chiseled cheekbones and exquisitely coiffed hair and couture, she's like a moving sculpture, like the queen in their game of Chess. Their match is more than just a board game. It's a contest of wills played as grand seduction. Their real moves are around the game's pieces: they swirl their brandy, she bites her lip, he drums his fingers, she caresses exposed skin, until he lifts her by an arm to utter his proposed draw - "let's play something else" - and then pulls her into a twirling series of sticky kisses as the camera dances around them, their forms melting into a kaleidoscopic swirl of orgasmic golden color.
Now that's a big smooch. Still, the best buss of this past year was not in a big film. It came in the small scale, but hugely charming, (500) Days of Summer. In that delightful confection, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) crushes on officemate Summer (Zooey Deschanel) from afar until one day, during the mundane task of making photocopies, she suddenly presses herself to him for the kind of kissing that turns his daydreams to reality. Later, after they first make love, his reality becomes a daydream as he saunters through the streets in celebration, mouthing the Hall and Oats song "You Make My Dreams Come True," bringing the whole world - and audience - with him. Pedestrians and vendors, swept up in his afterglow, dance along in an impromptu parade. Someone hands him a bat for a home run swing. Cartoon lovebirds chirp above. Even Hall and Oats join the euphoric ride. Everything's better.
Because that's what a great kiss can do. It's all of your favorite things rolled into one on the tip of your tongue. It's fireworks night at a baseball game when your pitcher's perfect. It's those chocolate hazelnut truffles by Godiva that melt in your mouth. It's Mozart's 39th Symphony racing towards its joyous conclusion and that piccolo that finds heaven at the end of Beethoven's Fifth. It's an Elton John/Bernie Taupin ballad, and Fred and Ginger dancing on air. It's where the celestial meets the cinematic, and the cerebral and sexual merge. So this New Year's, make your first kiss a movie kiss. And if you don't have someone to kiss at midnight, don't worry. The year is young. Your match in stardust may be coming just around the corner, your own bit of heaven on earth.
Note: To read more about great movie kisses, go here.