DVD reviewed by Matt Hinrichs
| If there's a guiding philosophy behind Kinsey,
it might be "the more things change, the more things stay the same."
Bill Condon's stately biopic opened in November 2004 to glowing
reviews, only to find its lackluster box office gleefully celebrated
as a victory by the "moral values" crowd. Well, phooey on them.
For all the moral complexities surrounding it, Kinsey amounts
to a simple story about the boundaries between science and human
emotion. The film is crafted intelligently enough to let viewers
conclude for themselves the appropriateness of the man's work and
Kinsey, the movie, came along at exactly the right time—just
when Kinsey, the man, threatened to disappear into America's collective
warehouse of quaint '50s relics. Professor Alfred Kinsey's achievements
in sexual behavior research were explosive (Condon fittingly illustrates
the public reaction to his first book, Sexual Behavior in the Human
Male, with footage of an atomic bomb blast). His findings, coming
from an exhaustive survey in which thousands of average people unloaded
every minute detail of their sexual histories, helped open an honest
dialogue about sex. The result was an understanding that it wasn't
all shame and evil and hairy palms.
As portrayed by Liam Neeson, Kinsey is presented as a not altogether
likable guy—frustrated, self-doubting, remote. His obsessiveness
(seen best in earlier scenes where Kinsey catalogs the minute variations
of gall wasps) proves to be both his own personal liberation and
his undoing. The movie wouldn't be nearly as appealing if it only
focused on him, but co-star Laura Linney is afforded nearly as much
screen time as Kinsey's patient wife, Clara. A good move on screenwriter
Condon's part; Linney's enchanting no-nonsense characterization
serves as the heart and soul of the film. It was no surprise that
her performance received the film's sole Oscar nomination. Peter
Sarsgaard, Chris O'Donnell and Tim Hutton turn in similarly fine
work as Kinsey's sex institute associates. Indeed, the entire cast
(filled with many New York-based theatrical performers) is top-notch.
For a film with such controversial subject matter, Bill Condon's
detatched, clinical direction is something of a letdown. Strangely
enough, the most shocking scene occurs when Sarsgaard completely
strips off his clothes (a moment that speaks more for Hollywood's
timidity about male nudity than anything else). Although there are
several much needed scenes of humor and lightness, this story is
told with the pervasive solemnity of an Important Picture. At times,
the film plods along like those old studio-era bios of the noble
scientist pursuing a theory amongst the naysayers—only instead of
Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon discovering radium, here we have
Neeson and Linney attempting to uncover the popularity of cunnilingus.
That quibble aside, Kinsey is a beautifully made film brimming
with wonderful performances.
20th Century Fox's two-disc DVD showcases Kinsey in a terrific
looking and sounding presentation. Bill Condon's lively commentary
and the accompanying 90-minute making of documentary demonstrate
the fantastic ingenuity the crew went through during production.
For a film with scarcely the budget of an average made for TV flick,
it is a truly extraordinary achievement. Other features include
an interactive sex quiz, a short tour though the Kinsey Institute
gallery, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
Hinrichs is a Phoenix-based writer and designer. In addition
to Mindjack Film, he blogs regularly at scrubbles.net.
email for info