"There Isn't Any Other Song": Reading Monroe's 'Kiss' in and after Niagara

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Niagara (d. Hathaway; c. Kaplan, 1953) gained Marilyn Monroe her first top billing, as scheming adulteress Rose who uses the song 'Kiss' to communicate with her lover and plan her husband's murder. 'Kiss' dominates the film's soundtrack, providing source material for its orchestral underscore and featuring within the diegesis in various guises, after being introduced in a striking sequence that dwells intently upon the song's emotional and physical effect upon Rose. Although 'Kiss' is here used primarily as part of the fetishistic othering of the femme fatale, Rose's evident pleasure in the music and her own performance complicates any straightforward reading of the scene. Subsequent reappearances of 'Kiss' continue this problematically dualistic approach to female sexuality and agency; they not only chart the gradual unravelling of Rose's plans, but also highlight her simultaneous eroticization and infantilization as she is punished for her behavior and moves increasingly into the role of victim.
This seemingly paradoxical approach to characterization is also significant within Monroe's star persona, where the issues of performativity, musicianship and vocality that are introduced in Niagara's use of 'Kiss' become increasingly important in reconciling her apparently contradictory construction as both femme fatale and ingénue. The afterlife of 'Kiss' can therefore be read along two discrete, but interlinked, trajectories: it becomes tied inextricably to Rose's duplicity and desirability within Niagara itself, and also provides a template for Monroe's carefully constructed public image at this stage in her career.
Period12 Dec 2012
Event titleThe Afterlife of the Film Song
Event typeSeminar
LocationBristol, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational