Wartime Kiss is a personal meditation on the haunting power of American photographs and films from World War II and the later 1940s. Starting with a stunning reinterpretation of one of the most famous photos of all time, Alfred Eisenstaedt's image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, Alexander Nemerov goes on to examine an array of mostly forgotten images and movie episodes--from a photo of Jimmy Stewart and Olivia de Havilland lying on a picnic blanket in the Santa Barbara hills to scenes from such films as Twelve O'Clock High and Hold Back the Dawn. Erotically charged and bearing traces of trauma even when they seem far removed from the war, these photos and scenes seem to hold out the promise of a palpable and emotional connection to those years.
Through a series of fascinating stories, Nemerov reveals the surprising background of these bits of film and discovers unexpected connections between the war and Hollywood, from an obsession with aviation to Anne Frank's love of the movies. Beautifully written and illustrated, Wartime Kiss vividly evokes a world in which Margaret Bourke-White could follow a heroic assignment photographing a B-17 bombing mission over Tunis with a job in Hollywood documenting the filming of a war movie. Ultimately this is a book about history as a sensuous experience, a work as mysterious, indescribable, and affecting as a novel by W. G. Sebald.
Alexander Nemerov is the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities at Stanford University. He is the author of five previous books, including To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America, Icons of Grief: Val Lewton’s Home Front Pictures, and Acting in the Night: "Macbeth" and the Places of the Civil War.
"Beginning with Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square at the end of the Second World War, the art historian Alexander Nemerov's Wartime Kiss examines photos and film stills from the war period and later in the nineteen-forties. Many of the images collected here are lesser-known or obscure, and the more recognizable ones he interprets in surprising ways. . . . By providing the stories behind these images, he examines the ties between war and Hollywood, romance and violence, and provides a glimpse into a particular moment in American history."--New Yorker, Page-Turner blog
"As art historian Nemerov reminds us in this exceptional set of reflections on photography and history, photographs bring a lost moment and person directly into our view, so that what was and what is coalesce in eerie combination. . . . Nemerov's radiant meditations cast a penetrating glance into the moments captured in the photos and the larger stories they reflect."--Publishers Weekly
"Alexander Nemerov is preoccupied with photographic or cinematic images that trigger 'a piercing, wounding sensation without explanation,' or as Roland Barthes' put it, a punctum. . . . In Wartime Kiss, his speculative study of American movie scenes and photojournalism of World War II, Nemerov 'tries to imagine a different way of writing history' that addresses and tries to illuminate the renegade aspects of the moment that seem to lurk within or just beyond the images. . . . The many pleasures of Wartime Kiss hinge on Nemerov's assemblage of anecdote and related fact."--Ron Slate, On the Seawall
Table of Contents:
Kissing in August 1945 - Belita Jepson-Turner 5
Sleeping Beauty - Olivia de Havilland 23
When the World Smiled - Margaret Bourke-White 61
Sentimental Mysticism - Stovall at Archbury 97
Hold Back the Dawn - Olivia de Havilland 127
Bibliographic Notes 149