Elaine Constantine’s short looks at how a kiss can create mood and context within movies.
While Chadwick Boseman starred in several short films, very few are commercially available these days. His last short, 9 Kisses, is a fun exercise in film craft. Packed with Hollywood’s top stars, director Elaine Constantine explores how cinema’s most quintessential moment can be deployed to create a host of different aesthetics and meanings.
9 Kisses (2014)
The 18 most prominent actors of 2014 pair up in a series of intimate encounters.
Kiss and Tell.
9 Kisses is about story telling. Since its inception, the big kiss has become one of the most iconic moments in cinema. From Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman locking lips in Casablanca to Spider-Man and MJ having an upside-down smooch in Sam Raimi‘s first Spider-Man, the kiss continues to be a big dramatic moment a director can use to juice up a story.
The grand, romantic kiss comes most readily to mind for most viewers, but Constantine is interested in how many uses a director can achieve by smashing two stars’ mouths together. Throughout 9 Kisses, she shows us the gamut: shy kisses, clandestine kisses, unanticipated kisses, unwanted kisses. Each different in tone and meaning; each a novel version yet instantly recognizable, almost inevitable.
To underscore how much cultural voltage the big screen kiss carries, Constantine provides no pretext to each scene, and no dialogue. All the setup comes from the actors expressions and costume.
When you see Chadwick Boseman standing on stage dressed like Bo Diddley with his guitar and Kristen Stewart dressed in a punk-version of a sock-hop debutante licking her lips in anticipation, you know where you are and what’s going to go down. The same when you see David Oyelowo about to pin a desperate Timothy Spall in an arm wrestling match. Part of the pleasure of the moment is guessing right off what kind of kiss you’re going to see. Part of the fun of the scene is in the director paying off or frustrating your expectations.
Playing with Context.
Since the kiss is inevitable, the art comes from all of the little embellishments. When Benedict Cumberbatch pursues Reese Witherspoon through a garden, there’s an element of excitement…and danger. Tim Spall sneaking a kiss onto a startled David Oyelowo is funny, but their attire suggests they’re in a setting and era where it’s also culturally/racially fraught.
While many of the scenes pay out expectations, many of them also subvert them. We know we’re supposed to laugh when John Lithgow, dressed as a disco lounge lizard, starts angling towards Julianne Moore on the dance floor. But both actors shape their reactions in a way that makes the scene decidedly transgressive. Do you laugh from mirth or anxiety?
An Exercise in Form.
Your enjoyment of 9 Kisses will likely vary. If you’re just looking to see interesting pairings of your favorite stars lock lips, the film will probably provide a brief thrill. The short really exists for fans of the nuts and bolts of cinema. Seeing how one director can shuffle a loaded deck to get all sorts of outcomes with just one dramatic device is a lot of fun for fans of film-craft. It also makes you aware of all of the ways your favorite movies have primed you and manipulated you with this celebrated moment in the past.