It’s only 20 seconds long, but the contrast it provides in thinking about on-screen presence is a valuable one.
Something Good — Negro Kiss
Prod: William Selig
This “Negro kiss” film came as a direct result of the 1896 John C. Rice/May Irwin “The Kiss,” a huge nickelodeon hit from 1896 which wewrote about here. Evidently William Selig, an Edison competitor who based his Selig Polyscope Company in Chicago, thought a similar product, enacted by black people for black audiences, would make money. This is the earliest preserved Selig-produced film.
It probably failed, as it languished unknown, until it was rediscovered by USC archivist Dino Everett decades later, and properly identified with the help of Dr. Allyson Nadia Field of the University of Chicago. It depicts two vaudeville performers, Gertie Brown and Saint Suttle, embracing.
In sharp contrast to the stagey and stiff Rice/Irwin kiss, Brown and Suttle sway in gentle harmony together, locking lips then parting, then returning to kiss again. In between kisses they smile, they laugh, they josh with each other. For the first time, we see two normal, unaffected people close up, a refreshing blast from the past that belies all the staid and awkward filmmaking of that period, and eloquently contradicts all the white-promulgated stereotypes about African American behavior common at the time. It’s a breath of fresh air.
The National Film Rregistry Project is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order.