Watching Men Kissing Men: The Australian Reception of the Gay Male Kiss On-Screen



Publication Details

McKinnon, S. (2015). Watching Men Kissing Men: The Australian Reception of the Gay Male Kiss On-Screen. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 24 (2), 262-287.


In the 1942 film Casablanca, piano-playing Sam famously sings that we "must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss." Although now a classic cinematic moment, coming from a Hollywood film, this is arguably something of a hypocritical message, when placed on-screen, a kiss has often represented much more than just a kiss. The kiss has been required to carry multiple meanings in the history of cinematic sex, from innocent affection to sexual passion. From cinema's very beginnings until the mid-1960s,, Linda Williams argues, "a kiss of variable length had to do the job of suggesting all the excitement and pleasure of intimate sexual contacts." This was certainly true in Australia, where a limited local film industry and a dependence upon British and American studios was coupled with multiple layers of censorship, first in the place of production and then through local censorship regimes. Kisses were targets for the censors, who feared that audiences might be enticed toward inappropriate passions. But if the kiss could arrive at a range of moments in the narrative and could convey a range of possible meanings-from affection to desire and from illicit passion to marital bliss-there was at least one kind of kiss that remained entirely unacceptable to the censors. Until the 1970s the kisses filmed by British or Hollywood studios and ultimately screened to Australian audiences were always between a man and a woman. Although heterosexual sex enjoyed a slow cinematic reveal, starting with the kiss and leading up to the eventual display of sexual intercourse, gay men were first seen kissing on-screen in the same films in which they were first seen having sex. There was no slow reveal; a gay male kiss only ever appeared in films that also featured sexually explicit scenes. While heterosexual kisses were cinematic symbols for the whole range of heterosexual sexual acts, when two men kissed on-screen, it was always foreplay.

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