It’s New Years Eve again, meaning it’s time to crack open the champagne, don the glittery “2016” sunglasses, and oh yeah, find someone on which to lay the perfect kiss—you know, the kind that happens in the movies, where the whole world stops and the camera spins around you?
If you didn’t already know, the perfect movie kiss is a lie. Think about it. In modern, mainstream movies, kissing almost always sounds the same—after the two characters lock lips, as they part, there’s sort of a gentle, wet pop. Sure, we’ve all probably made that sound while kissing in real life, but it’s not like we make the same noise every time, right?
Before the clock strikes midnight, I decided to find out why, exactly, kissing sounds so homogenous in movies (and, um, how I could recreate that special sound in the comfort of my own home).
“The kisses that you see in films and television and on stage are not real kisses,” William Cane, kissing expert and author of The Art of Kissing, confirmed over the phone. “They are dramatic kisses, they’re representations of kisses.”
So it makes sense that there would be common kissing noises—the sound of locking lips is used for emotional effect.
“In popular films these days, every time you see somebody kiss, there will be a sound there,” said Martyn Zub, a supervising sound editor and sound designer with Formosa Group, who has worked on films including Nightcrawler, John Wick, and Frozen (heard of it?).
So how is that sound made?
“You could use a wet tissue and a bowl, putting a microphone over it, and matching it up the scene with the movement of the wet tissue,” Zub explained. Got that? He’d slosh a tissue in a bowl to sound like french kissing, because apparently sound engineers are magic. He said he’s also locked lips with his own arm to emulate the sound of kissing. Arms! Good for fart noises and kiss noises.
But, he added, “The best way to do it is with your partner,” referring to his wife. “You know, practice makes perfect,” he said, chuckling. Imagine that—recording the sound of two non-movie stars kissing and syncing it to video of two actual movie stars kissing. Hollywood, what a place!
Of course, some kissing scenes sound wetter than others. If there’s music swelling in the background, the kiss might swell, too—and when the scene is quieter, it will be subtler.
“It’s up to the discretion of the sound supervisor or the rerecording mixer to play as much of that sound effect or as little as possible, depending on the type of film and what you’re trying to portray in the actual story,” he said. “You could play up that wet kind of sound if it’s an awkward kind of moment with sloppy kissing. Or if it’s cooler and sleeker, you could lower it down.”
do I do you want porno tongue or church tongue? Then get that tissue swirling and amp up (or down) the volume accordingly.
So tonight, if you don’t have anyone to kiss and are wondering when your Ryan Gosling will walk through the door, just know that even the most perfect Hollywood kiss is an elaborate deception. Or maybe hide around the corner with a wet tissue and a bowl and see if anyone can tell the difference.