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Written and Directed by Bill Condon

Bill Condon presents a biography about Alfred Kinsey, a professor of entomology at Indiana University who created controversy when he became the first person to create a serious study of human sexuality.

Kinsey began teaching at Indiana University in 1920. He studied gall wasps and wrote two books about them. He also wrote a college textbook, An Introduction to Biology. In the ‘30s, he discovered how inadequate the instruction regarding sex was. As a man of science, he was outraged, especially by the myths about sex that were being passed on as fact, so he began teaching a class at the university about human sexuality. Learning how truly lacking the information was, he began to create a study about human sexual behavior. Kinsey and his team of researchers interviewed thousands of people across the country.

Kinsey went to Chicago to interview gay men with a male research student, Chad Martin, who was helping Kinsey do research in more ways then one. They began an affair, which was Kinsey’s first homosexual activity. After some time passes, Chad wanted to sleep with Kinsey’s wife, Clara. She was intrigued and open to the idea; Kinsey was able to separate sex and love, so he okayed it and encouraged this type of openess among the research team..

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male came out in 1948 and it became a smash, best seller. The book turned Kinsey into a bit of a celebrity, which gave him a platform to speak in the press about the unfairness of some sex crime laws across the nation. The school and the foundations that funded Kinsey grew nervous about some of the attention, but they were making plenty of money to ease their concerns. To further his studies, Kinsey and his team got involved with photographing and filming sexual activity to help their studies. The F.B.I began to investigate Kinsey when he wouldn’t help them find homosexuals in the State Dept. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female came out in 1953 and the public turned on Kinsey, probably not too accepting of the idea that their mothers and daughters desire sex just as much as the men do.

The film steers clear of detailing what the specific findings were, which is what some dissenters still take Kinsey to task for, but I think they should cut the man a little slack. He was the first one to attempt a serious study and that could only have been conducted by interviews, unless his team was expected to watch humans mate in the wild. It should be no surprise that the interviewees were people who were most at ease with talking about sex, so they naturally would be more liberated and active sexually. The findings might skew slightly higher, but the activity was certainly taking place.

The acting in this film is first rate by a talented group of actors. Liam Neeson and Laura Linney play off each other well as Alfred and Clara Kinsey, and Neeson captures the Midwestern twang of Kinsey’s voice. John Lithgow as Kinsey’s father and Tim Curry as the prudish, condescending professor Thurman Rice both only have a handful of scenes, yet they each wring out as much from the material as they can. My favorite moment is a powerful scene at the end of the film where Lynn Redgrave plays a lesbian who was able to come out of the closet and express her love for a woman who returned it, because Kinsey’s work let her know that she wasn’t alone. She thanks him for saving her life, an effect he had on more people than he was ever aware of.

The commentary track by Condon was very informative and provides a wonderful crash course on making movies. He provides really good details as to what he went through as a screenwriter to create the script. After some months, the screenplay’s structure was based on Kinsey answering the questions from the research study like other interviewees. Condon also discusses directing the film such as dealing with actors and the film’s visual style. He is very good about spreading credit around, not just the obvious people like the actors, but the cinematographer and the production designer also get a mentioned for their ideas and work. He also relates how the film was put in turnaround when new people took over at Fox and the process of trying to find new financing.

Other extras include a documentary called Kinsey Report: Sex on Film, which combines cast and crew answering Kinsey survey questions, behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with Condon and Producer Gail Mutrux as well as members of the Kinsey Institute. The documentary is about 80 minutes, but Condon covered a lot of the same information on his commentary track, so there is a lot of redundancy. It should have been cut down.

There are 21 deleted scenes with commentary by Condon that offer his reasoning behind their removal from the film, a three-minute gag reel, a six-minute visual tour of an exhibit at the Kinsey Institute, and an Interactive Sex Questionnaire. For the curious, my SES was medium to high, SIS1 was medium to low and my S1S2 was average.

Kinsey is not as salacious as it could have been, and it won’t sway those who already have a negative opinion of Kinsey, but I enjoyed it, finding the film very well crafted and I was especially impressed by Condon’s commentary. I wouldn’t call it a “must see” film, but if I was asked about Kinsey by someone interested in seeing it, I would recommend it.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • I suppose it wasn’t important to mention that some of the subjects of experimentation were babies? Or that the data was completely skewed throught the use of prison populations and students with no effort to use a broader demographic or make clear in the reporting that the data was likely to be skewed.

    Nor would today’s scientists be concerned about the fact that Kinsey had an axe to grind, which likely effected his objectivity.

    The reality that this skewed science has resulted in substantial amount of other skewed science and public policy doesn’t matter to the writers or producers, either. I have to wonder if the scientist who was being written about had had the same intentions and methods, but had come up with a wildly popular theory that suggested that cigarettes are good for you, whether their would have been the same “pass.”

  • Randy, the film may not make mention of any baby-experimentation, but it certainly doesn’t present Kinsey as a saint, which you seem to imply it does. There are times when he is presented as, for want of a better couple words, a right bastard.

    Great review, Bicho, i’m lookin forward to the DVD release. i thought the film was tremendous, and important at a time when all too many media outlets are treating sex as somethin either to be to be ashamed of or to be presented in a way that makes a fella feel ashamed for watchin it.

  • Randy,

    Where did you get this information about “some of the subjects of experimentation were babies”? Kinsey did speak with a pedophile who recorded his sick acts, but he wasn’t working on behalf of the study.

    If Kinsey’s data is so skewed, where is the scientific study that disproves it? You make it sound like it would be so easy to do that I don’t understand why there hasn’t been one in the past 50-plus years.

    Considering your blog states that its “A place to discuss sexual purity, skepticism about science,” and you are working on a book called “Sex Kills,” I must wonder if you have an axe to grind that affects your objectivity.

  • No. It comes the other way. I was suckered into the Kinsey/Playboy nonsense as a youth. The more I read the evidence on both sides, the more I came to see that folks were making it up.

    The information about Kinsey is widely available. One Book “Kinsey, Sex, and Fraud” is a major source, but there are many others. In fact, I’m not sure there is a lot of argument about these facts at this point.

    I’m afraid the pedaphile was doing experiments at Kinsey’s behest.