KINSEY Turns MORIARTY On!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I don’t know how Knowles budgets his spy time. I know there’s a fair amount of material that competes for his attention. Like me, he could be reading or watching something pretty much every hour of the day if he chose. As a result, life becomes a matter of setting priorities. I tend to decide what I’m going to read next or watch next based on how interested I am in the artist. Ang Lee’s new film? Yes, please. Carrot Top’s new film? Not going to get to it for a while. If someone’s done something I like in the past, I’m going to keep my eyes open for whatever they’re doing next. I give my eyes and ears around town lists of names, and whenever something new crosses a desk, I get a call or an e-mail or a package. Well, this weekend, one of those mysterious packages crossed my desk. Inside was a screenplay, 126 pages, dated AUGUST 2000. There were two names on the title page, and they commanded equal attention from me: KINSEY by Bill Condon.
Condon is, as you know, the Oscar winning screenwriter of GODS & MONSTERS, a remarkable, delicate, powerful little film. It was not just a beautiful nod to one of cinema’s great early filmmakers, it was also an important milestone for gay cinema in America. The film dealt with tricky sexually themed material with a sure hand and a bracing adult intelligence, and it worked to create empathy in one of the trickiest characters I’ve ever seen. James Whale isn’t a cuddly center for a film. He was a complex man, living in great pain, and his story is dark, dripping with sorrow at times. Condon’s sheer taste as a filmmaker is what makes GODS & MONSTERS so moving, and the fact that it manages to be a film about how we all search for affection, how we all ache for love and contact, is what allows it to shake easy labels. It’s a great film, not a great "gay" film.
I didn’t realize Condon was working on the story of Kinsey, but as soon as I saw the title, I was interested. There were two recent biographies of Alfred Kinsey published, and just reading the reviews of them was fascinating. All I ever knew about Kinsey was that he wrote some sort of sex manual. That was impression of him growing up. And that’s it. It was an old sex manual, too, from way back in the ‘50s, so I figured it was material that wasn’t relevant now. Still, it might be interesting to watch someone struggle with that material in a more innocent time, I thought.
Man, was I wrong.
Alfred Kinsey is an important American figure, the Darwin of sex, a revolutionary whose work is still cutting edge right now, today, even though we believe we’ve evolved as a culture. Kinsey’s story isn’t just a fascinating adult drama. It’s an essential film experience, one that I literally can’t wait to have in a theater. Bill Condon’s KINSEY manages to etch a memorable, moving portrait of this... this... this hero, and he manages to also paint the definitive picture of America’s relationship with its own sexuality. If this was a film I’d just seen instead of a script I just read, I would be grabbing all my friends and organizing a trip back to the theater tomorrow, just so we could have the inevitable conversations afterwards. As it is, I’m just dying to know now what’s happening with this film.
First of all, this is tricky material. There’s no doubt about that. It’s strong, it’s mature, and it deals frankly with a lot of material of an explicit nature. This isn’t some late-night Skinemax film, though. It’s also not a dry biopic, a genre that I’m really not especially fond of. Instead, it manages to use this man and his life and his work as a way to explore the very important ideas that his research raised, ideas about both love and sex. Condon gives center stage to Grafton Noone, who is a member of Kinsey’s research team, and it’s an interview with him that provides the framework for the film. This allows us an omniscent voice into the film, an important element when you’re dealing with these subjects. Instead of having the complex and contradictory Kinsey narrate the film, Condon has allowed himself a voice with which to comment on and critique Kinsey’s life and work even as we move through it.
The film starts with Kinsey as a child, and with a few quick scenes, it shows what sort of sexual education Kinsey had. It’s a repressive, highly religious upbringing. Kinsey is so afraid of masturbation that he cries afterwards. He’s a brilliant scholar from a young age, something the script suggests as a way of escape, and he begins collecting. This leads him naturally to science, where his almost obsessive drive to collect data brings him gradually to his calling. Kinsey started his research as far back as the ‘20s, when he was cataloguing gall wasps and observing them. His work led him to the conclusion that there were no two gall wasps that were the same, that they evolved by giant leaps and bounds from generation to generation, and that they were sometimes not even recognizable as the same species from parent to offspring.
It’s during his days as a college professor that he meets Clara, a student who eventually becomes his wife. Theirs is an unconventional relationship from the start, and a good deal of that is simply because Kinsey is so socially eccentric. When they marry, their sexual life gets off to a terrible start. On their wedding night, Kinsey tries to enter Clara, causing her extreme pain. They try again several times and are on the verge of deciding that they just aren’t physically compatible when they visit a doctor and he diagnoses the problem as a simple matter of Clara’s hymen being inordinately thick. Kinsey realizes that his own complete lack of knowledge about the practical matters of sex made him unable to answer even this one simple question in a matter regarding his own wife. At the same time, he begins to enjoy an erotic life for the first time, and he realizes that everything he had been told about it was wrong. Kinsey’s personal inhibitions slip away, and he begins to indulge his interest in all things erotic. Clara is his willing partner in the journey, and the sequences of them taking their first steps into this world are wonderful. There’s an innocence about Kinsey’s curiosity, and he manages to mix the clinical and the personal.
At this point, he was still working on collecting gall wasp data, though, and publishing papers on it. He actually gathered over a million samples, creating staggeringly precise results. When Kinsey made the logical decision to start teaching sex to his students, it was a reaction to all of them being as woefully undereducated as he was. Kinsey’s not just a brilliant lecturer and researcher, he’s also a moral crusader. He believes that he is doing the right thing, that he can make a positive difference in the lives of his students and his community.
But the journey his work takes him on isn’t simple and straightforward by any means. Instead, it’s a trip that pushes the envelope so hard it shreds. The definitions of fidelity, normalcy, homo and heterosexuality, perversion, and love all fall under scrutiny and are challenged by what Kinsey and his group of researchers learn, both as scientists and as people. They use the same approach for researching human sexuality that Kinsey used in researching gall wasps, gathing data from as many subjects as possible by way of interview. These interviews form a major chunk of this film, and it’s great material. It’s funny, it’s human, it’s genuinely enlightening. There is such a beautiful cacophony of voices in this script, so many different types of people, so many different ideas and orientations, that when you’re done reading, you’re left dizzy, left to make the same conclusions that Kinsey does.
And what are those conclusions? Well, that’s the film’s secret weapon. That's what is going to make this an event, a cultural moment that's bigger than just the film. I don't know if America is ready, even now, to be told that we are gull wasps, that we are endlessly diverse, that the conventional notions of gay and straight don't matter, that they're labels without meaning, that we are all just shades of grey on the sliding scale of sexual experience, and that black and white are just illusions. People aren’t just going to watch this movie. They’re going to explode when they watch this movie. For me, there was a moment as I was reading when I felt that kundalini eye open in a whole new way, when I suddenly understood something about the world in a way I never had before. I consider that a good thing. Some people will be terrified to have that happen to them in a movie theater, and they’ll react strongly to it. This is a film that will be genuinely controversial. This past weekend should prove just how much value there is in challenging an adult audience, though. THE EXORCIST’s per-screen numbers are no fluke. That film has a reputation as being stronger than anything being made today, and audiences flocked to share that experience in the theater again. KINSEY is a film that will provoke each and every viewer in a different way, and that’s the brilliance of it. I can’t believe how entertaining it is, even as it bombards you with big ideas. Condon manages to do what Philip Kaufman always seems to strive towards in his films. He combines a European sensibility towards sex with an American sensibility towards film, and what he comes up with feels wholly original. It's something that seems alive, vital, even necessary.
I hope good things are happening for this script. I’ll be prying further into it in the weeks ahead. In particular, I’m curious about casting. Kinsey is one of the best roles any actor will be offered in their career, a dream for anyone of substance. He’s cold and clinical at first glance, but he’s a man of deep passions and he’s capable of real heat. He’s a genius as a scientist, but a failure as a celebrity. If someone like Tom Hanks or George Clooney or Russell Crowe plays this role, it’s a big movie by definition, and those stars can make the material approachable for a mainstream audience. If someone like Jeff Bridges (a dead ringer for the real Kinsey) plays the role, it’s going to be a great film, but it’s going to play edgier, and there’s more work involved in getting audiences to take the chance. Maybe those big movie star names buy Condon and his producers the freedom to talk about these subjects.
All I know is, I was changed by this material. Very few films ever reach me at that core place where I define myself. This one, just in script form, hits at the level of real experience, and I have to credit that to Condon's skill as a writer just as much as to the material he's working with. It’s important stuff. This is the kind of film that awards were invented for, and it has that rare chance to also be a commercial monster. The first time Kinsey discussed this material in public, back when he published his groundbreaking SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN MALE and the follow-up FEMALE volume, he created an instant international dialogue on these subjects. America’s religious and moral baggage crushed Kinsey, though, and his work somehow went from national consciousness to historical footnote. This second attempt to give proper weight to his revolutionary work has a chance to reach even more people. All it’s going to take is the nerve to pull the trigger. Can’t wait to see who the hero is.
I’ll be back with a full report on this project as I find out more about it. Until then...
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Sept. 26, 2000, 7:15 a.m. CST
I have to say, I find it interesting that anyone even thought of making a film about Kinsey, and fascinating that it could make a worthwhile movie. I enjoyed Condon's Gods and Monsters, and felt the movie was underrated and overlooked even with the great praise it drew. This is the kind of coverage I wish we'd see more of here on the site. I don't understand why so much more attention is paid to, frankly, Austin area film events than script reviews of upcoming or potential films. We constantly read about the stacks of scripts harry & co. possess, but the amount of real information about them has dropped off quite a bit within the last year. test-screening reviews are nice, but how many times do we need to be told how cool Crouching Tiger hidden Dragon is? Less hype, more info is my basic request. tbm
Sept. 26, 2000, 7:49 a.m. CST
by gigolo aunt
A shame this looks to be an interesting movie.Any word on casting?
Sept. 26, 2000, 8:25 a.m. CST
Did cause a bit of an uproar back in '48, even today there are people who will strongly disagree with Kinsey's ideology, but the text is still fascinating as, I think must be Kinsey himself. This will be a hell of a film.
Sept. 26, 2000, 10:18 a.m. CST
Sept. 26, 2000, 10:35 a.m. CST
but this appears to be of the WORST kind. Does Condon admit that an inordinate number of Kinsey's 'scientific' subjects were culled from the prison population, and that he started with the *assumption* of homosexual acts & practice? There's a reason people don't know as much about this guy as they should- he's a sacred cow to the hypersexual movement. On inspection, his 'studies' don't hold up.
Sept. 26, 2000, 12:08 p.m. CST
by Everett Robert
I don't know if this is the right area to be asking this question and if it's not please don't flame or ban me. What I'm about to ask, I belive, is a question that should be asked in the film community. What I'm attempting to do here is open up a free and open discussion and this seems to be the right place. If it's not please just delete the post and let me know WHY it was deleted, that's all I ask.--ok moving on to my question, why is that when someone is gay cinema makes a movie about one of their "heros" or icons or stories, it's almost always herelded as "great cinema" and yet on the same token, when the "christian" community makes a film it's labled as "overly religous" and is NOT recognized for any potential it might have. Now granted there have been few, if any, good "christian" films out there, at least not made by the "christian community" I personally found DOGMA and THE PRINCE OF EGYPT to be powerfully moving pieces of cinema but views and thoughts on both of those films are generally spilt among both the "secular" and "religous" communities. The only real "religous" movie that I've found that speaks powerfully and truthfully of the christian community is Robert Duvall's THE APOSTLE, and even that has it's fair share of critics. I've also found that the "christian" movie community, most notebly Canada's CLOUD 10 PICTURES, makes films that aren't geared toward the general populace, but rather at the christian community, films that mainly deal with the "end times" And I'm not dogging gay films, I enjoyed GODS AND MONSTERS and it looks like may enjoy KINSEY. My question is basically, why is there this divison in films, a divison that we feel we must label these films into catagories like "gay cinema" or "religous cinema" or whatnot. Shouldn't we, as a film community, not worry about what catagory it fits into or how to label it or who to market it to, and rather concentrate on whether or not this is good cinema period. Thanks for taking time to read this and I appciate your feedback on a subject that has concerned me for awhile. I think about this because a)I am a christian, and b) I'm working on several scripts right now that are generally "christian" in content but that I don't want to be labled as "christian" but rather as good filmmaking.--Everett Robert
Sept. 26, 2000, 1:13 p.m. CST
About 10 years ago (in 1991) I read a great script (I have it at home and e-mailed the information to Garth at Dark Horizons, but forget the writer at the moment) based on Kinsey. It took a differrent approach than what Bill Condon's trying. It looked at Kinsey from the perspective of one of his assistants. It was incredibly entertaining and was similar in tone to "Awakenings" (If I'm remembering correctly). It had a lot of drama, but also a lot of humor. That, hey, we can laugh at ourselves, stop being so prude, humor. The Kinsey script in development way back when was great material. I'm glad someone is finally getting a Kinsey project off the ground.
Sept. 26, 2000, 1:19 p.m. CST
Well, one could argue that when a great movie IS made about religious icons (like, say, Last Temptation of Christ) the religious community condemns it, because almost by definition a great film will challenge their preconceptions, but when a great gay themed film comes along (and to be honest, I can't think of a comparable film- Philadelphia DOES NOT qualify) the queer community embraces it whole-heartedly. But you also address the question of why films get categorized as 'christian' or 'gay' at all. I'd say it's because, rightly or wrongly, both those groups see AND DEFINE themselves as oppressed minorities, and thus transfer that identity onto what they consider 'their' films. I'd attribute the box office success of the different groups of films to how much the general public agrees with those definitions.
Sept. 26, 2000, 1:36 p.m. CST
I'll start by telling you where I'm coming from: I'm a staunch agnostic who thinks Christianity and all religion are bunk. At the same time, though, I find great value in religion in terms of recognizing it as a source of values (which I certainly do not always agree with) and our mythologies (which I find for the most part make pretty good stories). You ask, "Shouldn't we, as a film community, not worry about what catagory it fits into or how to label it or who to market it to, and rather concentrate on whether or not this is good cinema period?" Well, of course, ideally this is what we should do. And that is what I try to do. But that's not how it works in society, and your use of the word "market" is very telling, because money is what much of this boils down to. Studios need an audience, and I suppose many of them simply perceive religiously themed films as a risk. Aside from that, these are two very hot issues which people treat very personally, and that is the source of the labels. You can't deny that hatred against homosexuality still exists in society. (I don't know if you -- as a Christian -- find it immoral or not. I do not, and it's this very issue -- that adherence to "sacred" texts such as Leviticus -- that makes me most opposed to the Religious Right.) Consequently, any film that breaches the subject is going under extra scrutiny. Gays want to be portrayed fairly so that they will not be further stigmatized, and the religious opposition do not want gay "morality" (as if that has anything to do with the issue) thrust upon the impressionable minds of their ranks. Likewise, religion itself is taboo because it is so personal and sacred to so many people. No one wants their faith dragged through the mud, and secularists might be resistent to a sermon. You say you enjoy Dogma. I would conclude that you have an admirable sense of humor about faith. I enjoyed it as well, purely on the level of its storytelling and humorous twists. However, I would say the very first thing that labels it as a "religious" film is the close-mindedness of those who protested it without even seeing it. I and any intelligent viewer know that a religious film is not going to completely reflect the intricacies of any faith. A gay-themed film is not going to provide a whole picture of the homosexual experience. For that matter, any biopic or historical feature is going to take some liberties. I don't think that's wrong. I think it's just good narrative. People shouldn't expect documentaries or public service announcements at the theater. If they want to learn more about something, they should go to the library. If a little bit of revisionism of Kinsey's life makes a better story and delivers the message someone seeks, what's wrong with that? Who here who writes stories doesn't base characters on real people and alter them a bit? I admit that I myself have a bias against the films of the gay and religious genres -- not because I don't think they'll make good films -- but just because I have trouble relating to many of them. That makes it less likely that I'll see them, just as I'm less likely to see a film about the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged woman than I would be to see a film about the angst of a twentysomething male. I like insight into people who think and live differently than I do, but ultimately it is those films that I can best relate to that I most value. There are simply too many movies to see. In answer to your question about "great cinema," I understand your concern, but I would say your statement is a bit too much of a generalization for me. Perhaps discussion of religion is becoming a little more taboo in today's society, but I still believe there are just as many films with religious motifs as there are those with prominent depictions of homosexuality. If the media has created some sort of backlash against religious films in favor of gay ones, I would say that it's primarily a product of what its producers deem as political correctness and the current mores of society. I would also say that it seems a natural transition to me -- given that much of homophobia is rooted in religion. (Incidentally, this secularist also has a religious script in the works that -- should it by some miracle ever reach a movie screen -- I would hope be judged on its own narrative elements and not an endorsement or indictment of any way of thinking.)
Sept. 26, 2000, 1:37 p.m. CST
by Bari Umenema
You'll laugh! You'll cry! You may even touch a little thigh! Yes you too can be a sexpert of the highest order! So don't delay! Call today! Take that cute cheerleader to see this movie! Tell her it'll be "educational"! Why this is one you can even take Grandma and Grandpa to see since they no doubt lived through the daring sexual experiments of the notorious 1950s! Good review though.
Sept. 26, 2000, 4:29 p.m. CST
by I'm A Golden God
One reason for the difference in perception between religious-themed movies & gay-themed movies is that people's ideas on homosexuality are basically binary: either you're only accepting of heterosexuality, or you accept gays/bisexuals/etc. People tend to have a similar perspective with regard to their own sexuality. If you don't identify yourself as heterosexual, then for most people you fall into some variety of "otherness"--gay, bi, transgender, experimenting, or whatever. Of course those aren't all the same, but they are all considered "other" than the norm. So it follows that depending on your position, either a pro-gay movie, or an anti-gay movie might appeal to you. Either side has a pretty broad base to draw from. Religion is a lot more complicated, obviously. There are all kinds of faiths, along with agnosticism & atheism. So while an antireligous movie probably wouldn't appeal to most people of faith, a pro-Evangelical Christian movie might not appeal to a practicing Jew, etc. And obviously within each community there's lots of room for dissent (thus Catholic directors made Dogma & Last Temptation..., both of which were vilified by large parts of the Catholic community). In contrast, I doubt the lesbian community would revile a movie that the gay community embraced. In this respect--and in this respect alone--I believe that sexuality is a less complicated issue. Full disclosure: I'm a straight male so if I said something offensive or I'm full of shit, feel free to let me know.
Sept. 26, 2000, 5:47 p.m. CST
by Buzz Maverik
I tried to stick up for her, I really did, but then I got tired and had to go home.
Sept. 26, 2000, 7:31 p.m. CST
by The Yattering
Nice try, Shade. The info is indeed out there, in the distortion engines of the religious and political right, who as recently as 5 years ago tried to persuade the Indiana state legislature (where Kinsey compiled his research and where his institute is based) to launch an investigation into his impeccable methodology and thereby discredit the work of an important scientist. The real truth is that the religious right still considers Kinsey a villain, because his meticulous work resulted in a rethinking of societal sexual mores based on hard science and not the pulpit. Pretty amazing to see right here and now that his ideas are still so powerful and frightening to people that, decades later, some of the frightened few are still chanting half-baked spook stories and urban legends that date back to the 1950s. Billy Graham is alive, kicking and preaching in the AICN Talkbacks. Before attacking the science and the conclusions that were reached, why don't you actually bother to read the studies and the biographies and then come back to debate. Amen.
Sept. 26, 2000, 9:37 p.m. CST
by Everett Robert
I just wanted to say thanks for all the great input to me in this talkback. I agree with what's being said just froma different perspective. 1) I througly enjoy LAST TEMPTATION,because it is a great movie, not because of some precived "wrong" geared toward the "christian" community. There is only one scence in that film that I don't like and that is when Jesus is eating the fruit(an apple I think but I'm not for sure) and he tosses the seeds into the ground and suddenly it's a tree. The Jesus I read about in the bible doesn't do things like that,but other then that one scene I love the movie and I think that it shows that to a Christian community who would watch it that the Jesus we worship goes through the same trials we go through everyday which, according to the bible, was his point. God became man to relate to us. I think the point of Dogma was that the church gets so wrapped up in it's "laws" and beliefs that it forgets that Jesus' message was one of freedom from the laws of the church.--I'm glad you mentioned Shadowlands, I had forgotten about it, but I'm a big fan of that movie too, because of it's PRO-FAITH message, I wish the christian filmmaking community would stop with the preaching and do what the more select film communities, i.e. the gay/lesbian film community, have done and that is show us every day life and trials and struggles and perhaps show us heros of the faith like the gay/lesbian film community has done. It could be films about William Tyndale or Cassie Bernall/Rachel Scott or any other number of non-biblical stories of faith. I belive that if the "christian" film community would STOP trying to preach and focus on faith, we could actually see something happen. Instead it seems to be more focused on making end-time thrillers then anything else, which at my count is 6 in the last year and half to two years (VANISHED, APOCYLEPSE, TRIBULATION, REVELATION, OMEGA CODE, LEFT BEHIND)
Sept. 26, 2000, 11:17 p.m. CST
how glowing a portrait is this? I read a very good (and accurate) Kinsey bio - "Alfred Kinsey: A Public/Private Life" - that revealed that the guy had serious problems other than the evil conspiracy of Puritanical values blah blah blah. Did you know, for example, that he died from a urinary tract infection resulting from sadomasochistic masturbation? That his research methods were horribly skewed toward his conclusions? It sounds like you're thrilled by cheap "sexual taboos" being broken, when the actual truth about Alfred Kinsey is much more interesting and complex. And he's hardly a "footnote," anyone with an education has heard of him...
Sept. 27, 2000, 1 a.m. CST
by The Yattering
Use your two cents to light a candle for me at church, and thanks for validating my previous post: "sick fuck" and "disturbed in the most disgusting way"? Gather your pets close 'round you and lock your children up tight...Someone Scientific This Way Comes.
Sept. 27, 2000, 3:53 a.m. CST
So what about films that address problems arising over both homosexuality AND religion? Anyone out there seen "Priest"? Now there's a film about the conflicts between love, desire, celibacy, convention and old-fashioned concepts of religion...
Sept. 27, 2000, 8:42 a.m. CST
Good post. I actually thought about bringing up non-Christian films that have Christian imagery, themes, etc. You can draw the parallel to so many of them. If that's what you take from some of the films you mention, I do not fault you. Of course, I would say that parallel exists simply because Christianity has so permeated our society's consciousness and that it includes so many elements that make a good story (forgiveness, redemption, salvation, etc.) And that's the primary reason I did not bring it up. But I also didn't bring it up because your discussion reminds me of one of my pet peeves. These themes -- and more importantly, morality -- are *NOT* independent to Christianity. The phrase used in conjunction with singing the praises of someone that I see so often in the media is "good Christian." That just bothers me to no end. It's written as if the two terms can not exist without one another.
Sept. 27, 2000, 12:06 p.m. CST
Seems at least LOST gets what really is going on. I mean, if you actually sit down and read practicially anything written by Kinsey, his alterior motives and bias are easily evident. I am excruciatingly disappointed in Moriarty writing about Kinsey being such a reverent hero without having contact with any of his works... The man had issues, serious issues. His research should be disregarded simply for the manner it was conducted and the subjects he used. I thought it HAD been laughed off, but apparently some people, in their drive to be seen as 'open minded' will buy into anything....
Sept. 27, 2000, 10:14 p.m. CST
by Smilin'Jack Ruby
Honestly, I don't know as much about Alfred Kinsey as many of the other talkbackers in here obviously do, but hearing how impassioned everybody is makes me not only want to read this script, but also see the movie and find out more about the guy in the first place. If the debate is white-hot in here from Moriarty reading the script, I can only imagine the lobby of the movie theater after one of the first screenings of the pic.
Sept. 27, 2000, 10:43 p.m. CST
I got two paragraphs into this shite and couldn't be bothered reading on. Does that mean I'm gay? - Sleepless in Melbourne
Sept. 28, 2000, 11:18 a.m. CST
by gigolo aunt
and if you got to the part about Carrott Top, it means you want him.
Sept. 28, 2000, 2:41 p.m. CST
I don't really know any facts about Kinsey either, but I sure got a kick out that quote. Talkback wars are so funny.
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