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Moriarty Talks About Sex With KINSEY!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

When you make a short list of the most significant figures in 20th Century American cultural history, there is no doubt that Alfred Kinsey deserves a spot near the top of that list. Whether you see him as angel or devil is irrelevant. It’s impossible to argue that he had anything less than a transforming impact on the sexual mores of this country. What amazes me is that it took so long for someone to make a film about him. What doesn’t surprise me at all is that Bill Condon, who made the amazing GODS AND MONSTERS, has managed to make a smart and challenging picture featuring some of the year’s best performances.

I’ve been bombarded by e-mail about this project since the very first time I wrote about an early draft of this screenplay, both by people who were excited to see how Condon would approach this controversial figure and by people who were ready to burn the negative sight unseen. I should confess that I’m friendly with Condon, but when it comes to his work, he’s a master poker player, keeping his cards close to his vest until he’s ready to reveal them. There was a long period of time where the film was an on-again, off-again proposition, but thanks to the perseverance of producer Gail Mutrux, it finally happened. The production itself was very quiet. When I was finally invited to see the film on the Fox lot a few weeks ago, it felt like the proverbial other shoe dropping. Whatever I expected from the film based on that early draft, I was wrong. Condon’s film walks a fin line, managing to paint a sympathetic portrait of this complicated figure without canonizing him, exploring his life and his work without judging him. It’s difficult material, especially considering American cinema’s traditionally repressed attitudes about sexuality. I mean, for pissakes, the biggest story this week is about the ratings battle to keep a movie featuring puppets without genitals having sex from getting an NC-17. How freakin’ PLEASANTVILLE is that? Still, Condon managed to approach the film in such a way that I don’t think it’s the angry culture bomb I expected, but is instead an invitation to a mature discussion, the mark of a keen intellect at work.

The film begins in Kinsey’s childhood, as we get a glimpse of just what sort of puritanical background shaped him, thanks to his father (John Lithgow), a fire-and-brimstone preaching staff member of a religious university. As Kinsey grows up, the most important moment comes when he rejects his father’s restrictive world view and decides to dedicate his life to science. He wants to be able to quantify his reactions to the world, to have solid scientific data upon which to base his behavior. He becomes immersed in a world of insects and empirical data, a world that makes sense to him. For a time, he seems to have found his place, and he’s happy, although he’s alone. He begins teaching graduate students, and they nickname him “Prok,” short for Professor Kinsey. One of the first people to really slip inside Prok’s personal defenses is Clara (Laura Linney), one of his students. She’s just as smart as he is, and something clicks between the two of them. When they eventually marry, their first attempts at sex end horribly. They can’t figure out why, and there’s no reference book for them to consult, which starts Prok thinking. Even after they sort things out and start a family, Prok sees a gap in the way science treats human sexuality as a subject of study. By this point, he’s finished his study of gall wasps, and he turns his analytical method to the basic issues of sex.

What follows may enrage you as a viewer. Condon certainly doesn’t pretend that Kinsey’s research was flawless or that his methodology was perfect. One of the things that the film makes obvious is that Prok had very little sense of how important emotion and other intangibles are to sexuality. He turns such a clinical eye on the subject and does such a good job of turning each of the people he interviews into a questionnaire instead of a living breathing individual that he seems to miss the point. Then again, it’s that disconnection that allows him to interview people without judging them, something that was crucial when dealing with people whose lifestyles had shut them out of the mainstream. There’s a moment late in the film where Prok and one of his researchers, Pomeroy (Chris O’Donnell), go to interview a one-man encyclopedia of perversion played with quiet, creepy assurance by Bill Sadler. In that moment, Kinsey comes face-to-face with the dark side of unbridled freedom, and it seems to push him into an awful place where he has to question just what it is that he’s doing.

Overall, the performances in this film are across-the-board great. I don’t think Liam Neeson’s ever been better, and I include SCHINDLER’S LIST in that. There’s an intelligence to Neeson as an actor that he almost never gets to fully utilize in films, and he embraces it here. Laura Linney’s worked with Neeson onstage, and the rapport they’ve obviously developed pays off magnificently. They convincingly etch in the details of a marriage, and there’s a lovely sense of honesty to the way they age over the course of the film. I love John Lithgow, but I’ll be the first to admit that he can be too hammy for some people. He reigns it in here, and there’s one magnificent moment late in the film that is heartbreaking. Tim Curry plays a rival professor at the university where Prok teaches, and Oliver Platt plays the university president, both of them managing to be very funny in their brief screen time. Timothy Hutton and O’Donnell both give good support as members of Kinsey’s research team, and they do a great job of showing how these characters balance genuine scientific curiosity with a willful head-first dive into decadence, but it’s Peter Sarsgaard who almost steals the show. At this point, he may well be one of the best working actors, able to effortlessly tap into the emotional truth of whatever he plays. Clyde Martin is more than just an assistant to the Kinseys. He becomes a sexual partner to both of them, guiding Prok into territory previously unexplored. It’s bold work, but Sarsgaard doesn’t seem to realize just how brave it is. He keeps it grounded and real at all times, and when all the sexual freedom gets to be too much, he makes you feel the full impact of it. There’s another performance in the film that is only for one scene, but it’s so devastating, so perfectly played, that I would be remiss if I didn’t single out Lynn Redgrave for praise. Her appearance absolutely floored me, and I think it may be the single most beautiful scene in an American film so far this year, crystallizing why the struggle to normalize all the variations in human desire is so important.

Fredrick Elmes is an incredible cinematographer, and he was smart enough to not suffocate the film with style. So often, people burnish period films like faded tintypes, but Elmes simply shoots the film with a clean, careful, uncluttered eye. The last scene in the film is particularly beautiful, and it’s also a great example of how important quiet can be as a tool for a filmmaker. Seeing this in a theater, it’s transporting, a summation of how we fit into the natural order, a perfect wedding of sound and image. As important as Elmes’s work is, there should be an MVP award given to Carter Burwell for his original score. He’s been adding an element of class to films for decades now, but he never fails to impress me. He’s the opposite of someone like John Williams, who writes bombastic, instantly recognizable themes, then orchestrates variations on them. With Burwell, he’s less about themes and more about underlining and enhancing the emotional content of a scene with invisible precision. His work affects you on an almost subliminal level. You don’t hear his scores so much as you feel them.

What really stuck with me about the film is that this is not a movie designed to shock, although there is some surprisingly strong material in it, including graphic images of penetration and male and female nudity. It’s not a film that just wants to push your face in the work that Kinsey did. Best of all, it’s not just a biopic designed to declare Kinsey a hero. Instead, it strives to provide us with a human face we can attach to this name that so frequently gets wielded like a baseball bat by people on both sides of the issues raised by Kinsey’s work. It’s a great movie, well worth the wait for Condon’s fans, and it will no doubt be one of the major players as we enter awards season in the months ahead. If you're in Chicago, the film opens the Chicago Film Festival tonight, with Condon and Neeson attending a screening that will be hosted by none other than Roger Ebert. It's worth your time if you're in the area to try and make that one.

I’ve got a lot more to write about this week, and I’m running short on time, so I’ll get back to it. I hope KINSEY is met with open arms and open minds by film fans in the months ahead, because it’s a rewarding experience, and a powerful statement that seems long overdue.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 7, 2004, 4:29 a.m. CST

    You said "Long overdue". Uh-huh, uh-huh.

    by Ted Striker

    This looks great.

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 4:30 a.m. CST

    Wow - I was first, and didn't even mention "first!", so I guess

    by Ted Striker

    This is what unemployed people do.

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 4:56 a.m. CST

    Maybe I WANT this movie to push my face into this stuff...

    by ChickenGeorgeVII

    SMELL-O-RAMA!!! SMELL-O-RAMA!!! SMELL-O-RAMA!!! PLEASE DEAR GOD LET THIS BE IN SMELL-O-RAMA!!!!....And thus, will the consession stand be selling tuna? - - - George, The 7th Chicken!!!!

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 10:49 a.m. CST

    How does Laura Linney continue to get work?

    by Frisco

    Just a distractingly incompetent actor. -=><=- The movie itself sounds very interesting. I do hope that people who disagree with Condon's treatment of the subject won't be branded reflexively as puritanical NIMBYs.

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 10:57 a.m. CST

    I still don't understand all this...

    by Johnny Smith this a documentary about Ronny Cox's Stargate character's sex life?

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 11:27 a.m. CST

    I wonder if the film includes Table 34

    by Matt

    It is a well documented fact that Kinsey employed child molestors to sexually stimulate young children of ALL AGES to ascertain how long it would take them to achieve orgasm. This fact is often glossed over, and I'm curious if it will be at least mentioned.

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 2 p.m. CST

    Not quite right Brimley

    by Elohim

    From the Indiana University website: "The Kinsey Institute has never carried out sexual experiments on children, either during Alfred Kinsey's time as director or since. As stated clearly in the first Kinsey volume, [Sexual Behavior in the Human Male], published in 1948, the information about children's sexuality responses was obtained from older subjects recalling their own childhoods, parents observing their children, and a small number of adult men who had engaged in sexual contacts with children and who were interviewed by Dr. Kinsey and his staff. The Kinsey Institute did not employ or train these men, or pay them for this information." ___________________________ Still, interviewing pedophiles about how long it takes kids to orgasm does seem a little creepy.

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 2:02 p.m. CST

    And for the record...

    by Elohim

    Laura Linney is one of the best actresses working today.

  • Dagnabit. Anyone else point me to a DL site? I'm not even American, I just loves my freebie movies and trying to get a good look at someone who has a shot of being the leader of the free world. That and Vietnam is always good for laughs. So yah, WTF, I say?

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 4:37 p.m. CST

    Thanks, Elohim

    by SlightlyCharred

    ...for the information. Had a bad moment there for a second. Yuck. And Sucks Guy - ChickenGeorge kicks your ass. George, after the RIP Rodney message, you're my new personal hero.

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 5:35 p.m. CST

    Since I know little about Kinsey and care even less.....

    by Jimmy Jazz

    I'll just say this: The "Sucks" guy is boring, Chicken George rocks and Laura Linney is one of the best working today. Anyone who says differently has serious problems with taste and judgement.

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 6:06 p.m. CST

    Was The "Sucks" Guy just a figment of our imaginations?

    by jim

    or have his posts been deleted? Has he been deleted? Is that why the sun seems to be shining a little brighter?

  • Oct. 7, 2004, 10:39 p.m. CST

    it's a shame

    by runlola

    i'm a student at indiana university where the kinsey institute is, and as far as i've seen, there's been little to no press about this movie here. i still can't wait to see it.

  • Oct. 8, 2004, 2:10 a.m. CST

    Whoa, what did happen to the "Sucks" Guy?

    by AshesOfDonnie

    man , as much as I hated him, im gonna miss him. gave me a reason to read through these talkbacks to see how he rips off ChickenGeorgeVII and see him run out of ideas. perhaps he read the obituary that Chicken wrote and coudn't handle it, he imploded(or ex-ploded). BTW I salute you , George the 7th Chicken. you have come out victorious. the "Sucks" guy was nothing more than the Cracked Magazine of talkbackers.

  • Oct. 8, 2004, 2:44 a.m. CST

    Since it is a sex film would be the appropriate pl

    by ChickenGeorgeVII

    AND WE ALL KNOW HOW I LIKE THE TOUCHING!!!! WOO WOO WOO...TOUCHING!!! LOTS AND LOTS OF TOUCHING!!!....thanx make a chicken all warm and fuzzy inside...kinda the same feeling i have had while driving shitfaced on the high road.....And thus, what's a five letter word for vacuum? - - - George, The 7th Chicken!!!!

  • Oct. 8, 2004, 1:27 p.m. CST

    The truth about Kinsey....

    by MrBadd

    ...was that he was a perv himself. Dr. Judith Reisman has written a book about the REAL Kinsey, and not some Hollywood version cooked up from the mind of Bill Condon, a homosexual who undoubtedly embraces the 10% lie created from thin air by Kinsey and his band of Merry Perverts. BTW, Drew, old boy, PLEASANTVILLE was anti-American and anti-God. A lame comparison, indeed.

  • Oct. 8, 2004, 6:49 p.m. CST

    by SlightlyCharred

    Dam' skippy, gayzilla.

  • Oct. 9, 2004, 10:39 a.m. CST


    by MrBadd

    You want to talk about reading books? Try starting with this one: I also could not help but notice you could not back up the phantom 10% figure either. The best you could do was pull up a survey of children done by a homosexual organization(self-serving, anyone?), and not even they could strengthen the 10% myth. Furthermore, you like to reference Dr. Laura Schlessinger, as if she is someone who is not credible. Fact is, she is very credible, otherwise you would have not seen an orchestrated move on the part of homosexual activists to have her television program removed from the airwaves before a single episode was aired. If she is anything at all, she is a threat to militant homosexuals and the homosexual agenda, and that's why they are willing to turn into pretzels to portray her as something other than what she is, which is 100% correct. But I digress.