Back in 1896, tinkering with his idea for making pictures tha moved, Thomas Alva Edison filmed a little scene in his New Jersey laboratories. Perhaps the first titled movie ever, "The Kiss" merely featured a mustachioed gent planting an elaborate kiss on his shy belle.
"And in 100 years, the movies have never stopped kissing," says actress Lauren Bacall in a new cable special tonight, appropriately scheduled this Valentine's week.
"Kisses" is a veritable overture to osculation, as Hollywood has presented it over the years. It can be seen at 8 and 11 tonight on the TNT basic service, with repeats Feb. 14, 16 and 17. (The show was produced to accompany the publication this week of a book of the same title, featuring studio publicity photos from the film archives which Ted Turner has been compiling in recent years.)
According to TNT, producers compiled more than 52 hours of kissing scenes from scores of films, then condensed them to highlights for this documentary. Even modest film buffs will find some of the screen's more memorable romantic moments here.
Viewers may also wish, however, that the makers paid more attention to helping clarify our memories. Far too often, these scenes of passion lack labels.
Over and over, we may recognize Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart or Greta Garbo in a scene, yet not be able to identify his or her kissing partner, nor remember the film's title. A quick caption with title, date and the actors involved would seem the least to expect, but easily half the time "Kisses" does not provide the information.
That said, "Kisses" nonetheless offers an overview of the evolving treatment of not only romantic kissing, but the friendly, polite, peck-on-the-cheek kind, too.
The restrictive era of the Hays Office, which from the 1920s onward strove to keep screen romances prim and proper, is explored, along with Howard Hughes' publicity-oriented defiance of the censorship in the steamy Jane Russell western "The Outlaw."
Among the stars who get some special attention are Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, Cary Grant and even Ronald Reagan.
Humphrey Bogart seems to get the most mention. His "Casablanca" is evoked often, and it should be no surprise that we see the famous scene from "To Have and Have Not" in which Bacall herself (who would later marry the big lug) tells Bogie how to whistle.
NATURE CALLS -- Maryland Public Television tonight takes a look at the state's population of owls in the latest edition of "Outdoors Maryland." The part documentary/part travelogue series can be seen at 8 on channels 22 and 67 (plus repeats Feb. 13 and 18), and also includes segments on Eastern Shore marshes, soaring and hiking the Appalachian Trail.