The Naked Kiss

Thursday, 5 July 2007

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #18: Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss.
Sam Fuller is widely re­garded as a very mas­cu­line film­maker; his works as­so­ci­ated with vi­o­lence, bravado, ex­ploita­tion, prim­i­tive­ness and vul­gar­ity. And while those as­so­ci­a­tions are cor­rect, the mas­cu­line la­bel is mis­placed. A film like The Naked Kiss il­lus­trates Fuller’s claim to fo­cus on undi­luted emo­tion, em­phat­i­cally un­gen­dered. The char­ac­ter Kelly is cen­tral to the story in this film, and she es­sen­tially plays the role of the ar­che­typal fe­male. Maybe in Wicca [some­thing I’m only tan­gen­tially fa­mil­iar with] she would be the em­bod­i­ment of the Goddess. Another way to look at it would be to com­bine all of the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Greek god­desses into her form. She’s by turns wan­ton, venge­ful, moth­erly, sis­terly, house­wifely. She is every­thing that any­one has ever thought about a woman. This type of em­bod­i­ment trans­lates eas­ily into a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Kelly as power. She is what the film is about, and her un­con­scious in­abil­ity to be pi­geon­holed by other char­ac­ters is in­dica­tive of the “moral tract” that Michael Dare men­tions in his Criterion es­say.
Despite this read­ing, the film has mo­ments of weak­ness in its por­trayal of Kelly. Her pros­ti­tu­tion is equated as a sex­ual per­ver­sion akin to pe­dophilia. It is ob­vi­ous that Kelly isn’t a sex­ual de­viant, but there is a brief mo­ment that gives the film its name when she says she can tell when a man is a per­vert by the way his kiss tastes. A naked kiss, pros­ti­tutes call it. This sort of sixth sense is noth­ing but hokey. Even in the 1960s I sus­pect. Despite and be­cause of Kelly’s mul­ti­fac­eted char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, she’s the least ac­ces­si­ble char­ac­ter in the film. Illimitable. It helps that the set­ting and other char­ac­ters are so purely one-di­men­sional. Grantville could be Leave it to Beaver’s Mayfield, ex­cept it is even more idyl­lic.
Of course, the lurid plot is ex­actly right for ex­ploita­tion cin­ema: pros­ti­tutes, pe­dophiles, small town America. Dateline could learn a lot from Sam Fuller. Kelly, though a hooker with a heart of gold, has an ex­tremely vi­o­lent streak that ap­pears when she must de­fend virtue and jus­tice; an odd trait for a pros­ti­tute, but fully in keep­ing with the com­plex and im­per­fect char­ac­ters that are trade­marks of a Fuller film. There is a scene where she shoves money into the mouth of a cathouse madam, and the fact that the madam looks like Kelly might in 15 years is star­tling. The fram­ing of each shot through­out the film is as tight and claus­tro­pho­bic as pos­si­ble, not un­til the end do we get a sense of free­dom and re­lease, as Kelly leaves town to make her way else­where. The Naked Kiss isn’t Fuller’s best film, but it is cer­tainly a stand­out in com­par­ison to his other works and the schol­ar­ship that has been done in re­la­tion to his defin­ing au­teur char­ac­ter­is­tics. If you’re a fan of any­thing Fuller though, you’ll en­joy this film.
Criterion Essay by Michael Dare.
Criterion Contraption re­view.
San Francisco Gate ar­ti­cle.
Dan Schneider es­say.
YouTube Clips: Clip 1, Clip 2, Clip 3.