Diana Smeu studies Screenwriting & Film Studies at UNATC Bucharest. This video was created in a course coordinated by Irina Trocan and Andreea Mihalcea. Originally published in Notes on Videographic Criticism on May 8, 2020.
This essay very nicely balances film history and your personal history and relationship with these films. Was that difficult? How did you negotiate that balance?
The structure of the video essays resembles very much the ‘therapeutic’ journey I had with myself when I tried to face the strange screen-related ritual I had as a child (covering my eyes when film characters are kissing). Some writings of Pauline Kael inspired me to dig into the causes of my fear. Yet I’m not sure why I was covering my eyes, because I remember very well I was dying to see that romantic exchange. I was incapable of looking. On a personal note, it was indeed difficult (and fun) to see those kisses over and over again, remembering my shame. But the structure emerged itself. All I had to do was to challenge myself to watch and collect kisses (which in the end, it proved to be a very pleasurable work to do for an exam). I have to say I had some qualms about choosing only Hollywood films, but they are the films I grew up with.
The ending is brilliant. How did you come up with that idea? At one point in the process did you decide to include that portion of the video and how did it shape the video overall?
The ending was the first visual part I thought of and I would love to call it a reenactment. The dive into film history came afterward (when I decided the video should have a didactical side, a part that anyone would find useful and revelatory, regarding the evolution of Hollywood cinema). It was impossible to discuss my past habits and not trying to practice them now (even for a short demonstration). The ending got me thinking about how deformed our watching behavior could be or may become, due to different causes. Usually, when a film contains violent graphic images we tend to close our eyes and it is incredible how the society I grew up in (a deeply religious one) influenced my mind to believe that a kiss can be just as shocking. Now it’s even a more personal video essay.
How did you go about selecting the films for this piece?
Choosing exclusively Hollywood films was a compromise. They were the very first films I saw and, for many years, the only ones. Also, Hollywood cinema is a distinct place when talking about sexual allusions or representations on screen. The infamous Hays Code, its enforcement, and its dissolution completely reshaped the form and lengths of the kisses. As you will see, the most recent erotic interactions between characters last longer than the early ones – and it’s perfectly justified by history and censorship. Moreover, Hollywood is the place to attack for its lack of diversity: in most of the films, the leads are white heterosexual couples (and for the earlier ones, that was mandatory). It was also tragic to see that the films I enjoyed as a child/teenager were dominantly directed by white men.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this video? What surprised you most while making the video?
The most challenging aspect of the process was to create a chronological and evocative evolution of the kisses that reflects both general and personal history. I tried to be fair with the course of the film history and with my personal Hollywood encounters throughout the years. As I haven’t seen many contemporary romantic comedies, you won’t find any reference to them in the video, even though they had a huge influence in the romantic mainstream genre. What surprised me the most during the process was the realization that I had engaged myself in some sort of film criticism back in the days, when I used to count the films I had seen with or without kisses. This separation between films helped me understand the patterns of specific genres and film clichés.