Urban Cinefile
"The job is pretend, right? It's pretending. What you can't do is take pretend into the business. The business is real"  -Russell Crowe
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Bill Condon’s film about Alfred Kinsey has generated a frenzy of anti-Kinsey howls, as if to prove that what he did 60 years ago – his explosive study of male sexuality - was so shocking to US society that some people even today regard him as a monster, Condon tells Jeff Sipe in New York.

Bill Condon, the writer and director of Kinsey, has followed a career path not atypical of many Hollywood directors. He wrote and directed numerous horror/suspense films before attracting attention and winning an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gods and Monsters (1998). So, when the increasingly vocal morality police of America’s extreme right refer to him as a “gay activist,” the 49 year-old Condon can’t help but chuckle.

“I don’t know what they mean by that,” he laughs. “I’ve never been an advocate of anything. I guess being an openly gay filmmaker is enough for them.”

Certainly, Condon’s filmmaking style owes far more to his background in horror, science fiction and suspense films than it does to his sexual preferences.

“Horror and suspense really are all about making the audience want to know what happens next,” explains the writer/director who is being touted as a sure-fire Oscar nominee for Kinsey. “It was good training, because, no matter what the film, if your audience doesn’t want to know what happens next, you’re lost.”

Kinsey, based on the life of the pioneering American sexologist, Alfred C. Kinsey, is not likely to be confused with The Exorcist. Nevertheless, Condon points out one scene that is lifted straight from the horror genre. Late in the film, as Kinsey, masterfully portrayed by Liam Neeson, becomes a magnet for criticism, we witness a meeting at his university where his staunchest supporter is unable to rally continued funding for his research. We cut to a scene of Laura Linney as Kinsey’s wife, Mac, arriving home to find his beloved record collection strewn across the living room floor.

"That’s an image straight out of horror"

“She immediately knows something is horribly wrong,” Condon says. “She goes upstairs and heads for the closed door of the bathroom. That’s an image straight out of horror.”

And, true to form, what she discovers behind the door is likely to send a chill up many a viewer’s spine.

There are a number of right-wing fringe groups in the US who would contend that Kinsey is, indeed, a real-life horror story. Web sites attacking Kinsey, his research, the film and Condon have proliferated since the project was first announced. Considering these sites as some kind of cultural bellwether, however, is risky business.

The film’s (and the man’s) most vociferous critic, Dr. Judith Reisman, Ph.D., has devoted much of the past twenty years to attempting to discredit Kinsey’s work. 

“The portrayal of Alfred Kinsey in this film,” Reisman has been widely quoted as saying, “is a hideously inaccurate role, much like playing the monster Mengele as a mere controversial figure.”

The problem with Reisman, however, is that outside of right-wing Web sites, her work is largely dismissed by serious researchers. Her study of images of children in Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler, produced with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) during the Reagan Administration was not only lambasted across the board by legitimate scientists, but the DOJ and the conservative publisher, Regnery, which had lobbied for the grant, both refused to publish it. The head of Regnery ultimately called his support of Reisman “a serious mistake.”

Then, in 1994, when the Kinsey Institute refuted her argument that Kinsey himself was involved in child molestation, she sued for defamation of character. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice, barring her from bringing the suit against the Institute, again, unless she could pay the Institute’s outstanding $53,000 legal tab. The suit disappeared. 

"resorted to calling Kinsey 'a monster'"

Groups such as Concerned Women for America (CWA), Focus on the Family and the Traditional Values Coalition have also ranted against Kinsey on their Web sites. CWA, whose main spokesperson is, curiously, a man, originally echoed Reisman’s remarks comparing Kinsey to Mengele. He has since backed off of that characterization and resorted to calling Kinsey “a monster.”

“While we were shooting,” Condon says, “we learned that there was going to be a protest, and we all arrived that day feeling pretty nervous. In the end six people showed up and we gave them coffee and donuts. There was another protest planned for opening night in Los Angeles. A dozen or so protestors showed up.”

Condon, and many who have seen the film, regard it as a fairly even-handed take on the deeply conflicted life of Alfred Kinsey. The movie not only evokes the competing interests of science and advocacy, but also displays the somewhat disturbing dichotomy involved in the scientific quantification of the profoundly personal and individualistic matter of human sexuality. It also touches on Kinsey’s disturbingly dispassionate approach to some sexual practices, specifically paedophilia.

“I feel that if you’re unsympathetic to him, you’ll find plenty in the film to confirm that point of view,” maintains Condon. “But with the fringe groups, it’s Anthony Hopkins in a hockey mask or nothing.”

Kinsey published his first sex study, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” in 1948, more than 50 years ago. Whereas there is little discussion of Kinsey’s work these days, Condon believes that that is precisely what has brought such rabid comments from the far right.

“If you look at the movies of the past year like The Passion [of Christ] and [Fahrenheit] 9/11,” says Condon, “people know what they think of Jesus Christ. People know what they think of George Bush. But, for the most part, people don’t remember Kinsey. I think that’s why the fringe groups seem to really want to define him before people get to the movie.”

Not too surprisingly, the mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic was more than happy to report on what was shaping up to be the first volleys in America’s widely predicted post-election “culture wars.” In reality, however, nothing came of all the saber-rattling on the right. News coverage of the film and the so-called controversy dried up as soon as the film opened, because there was nothing left to report.

"the fabricated firestorm "

In an email, Hilary Clark, head of Fox Searchlight’s international publicity department said this: “In the case of ‘Kinsey,’ a movie whose sole intention is to offer a faithful rendering of the life of Alfred Kinsey and his pioneering research in an essentially puritanical country during the 1950's, it just so happens that its release date dovetailed with the ongoing post-election analysis revealing ‘morality issues’ as the prevailing force in America. One could have predicted the fabricated firestorm surrounding the film's opening, but the planned protests never materialized.”

What have materialized, however, are three Golden Globe nominations. Neeson and Linney have both been nominated for their performances and the picture itself received a Best Motion Picture nomination. Although the more prestigious Oscars do not always duplicate Golden Globes, there seems little reason to doubt that both leads and the picture itself will garner similar Oscar nods next month. Regardless of one’s personal opinion of Kinsey, the man, such recognition of “Kinsey,” the film, bodes well for Hollywood but badly for the town’s bread and butter, the simplistic blockbuster.

“There is an advantage to having only $11 million,” Condon says, referring to the relatively miniscule budget of Kinsey. “You don’t have the weight of the world riding on the movie, so you don’t have to simplify what you’re doing. You’re not aiming for the lowest common denominator.”

That complexity does not appear to be an admired quality in George W. Bush’s America only serves to strengthen the impact of Kinsey.

Says Condon: “In order to really make you feel the impact and understand how revolutionary he was – how shocking it was to show that slide [of male and female genitalia] to a class in 1938 – I think you have to create a context in which that really doesn’t belong. It has to be almost in the style of another time. And that’s in the direction, in the design, in the cinematography, in the acting style and in the writing. It’s like Emile Zola, in a way, where everything speaks to a point. Underneath it all, I intended there to be a far more nuanced depiction of what’s going on.”

Published January 6, 2005

Email this article

Bill Condon

Liam Neeson - as Kinsey

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020