Four Frames: The close-up kiss from A Place in the Sun (George Stevens 1951)

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As a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor let us linger for a while over what is surely one of the greatest ever onscreen kisses. If proof were needed that, in her heyday, Taylor photographed better in close-up than pretty much any other actress, this George Stevens romance surely provides it.

To begin with, it’s worth noting that unlike most other characters in the film George (Montgomery Clift) is shown most frequently in medium or long shot, quite deliberately so as to suggest that he is the object of scrutiny. The distance also implies his relative anonymity; he often seems somewhat dwarfed in both his exterior and on-set scenes. We only really get to see him in close-up when he is with Angela (Taylor), as though it is only when he is with her that he is in focus, as though she has drawn him in and somehow completed him.

In among the many slow, languid dissolves that Stevens employed to tell his story, this kiss stands out as especially rapturous and all-consuming. It is during this clinch, when the couple are dancing, that they express their deep love for each other for the first time. The lines that are exchanged emphasise the intimacy but no words are really needed. The extreme close-ups, with mouths mostly obscured or occupied in the kiss, speak volumes: this is love.

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