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KINSEY: Movie Review
by Lisa Chavez
"America is awash with sexual activity only a small portion of which is sanctioned by society," blurts Alfred Kinsey in Liam Neeson's booming voice. What's really odd about this movie is that it happened 50 years ago, and yet we're not really out of the dark Kinsey hoped to enlighten with his research.
In the film we learn that Kinsey's research, in which he interviewed thousands of people about their sexual habits, shocked the world on many fronts. For example, he quantified the fact that male masturbation was the rule and not the exception. He found that almost a third of all men had, at some point, received fellatio from another man.
Historically, Kinsey's book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, came out first, in 1948, and then the book on female sexuality was researched and published in 1953. (You may find the dates useful if you go to see the movie because the make-up artist hasn't aged the characters consistently relative to the dates -- some characters seem to age a decade (in 30 years) and others don't age at all).
The movie accurately shows that soon after the public acclaim that greeted Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, public opinion turned on him -- thanks to bitter campaigns by some academics and some members of the religious right. Kinsey was called everything from a bad scientist, to a corruptive influence, to a pervert.
His female book revealed such radical perversions as the tendency for women to get off more easily by way clitoral stimulation than by vaginal intercourse. Furthermore, Kinsey inferred that if a woman doesn't come off during "normal" intercourse, she's probably far from "frigid." It only means that during intercourse, her lover's penis is missing the point -- the clitoral point. Eventually the vitriol over Kinsey's book on female sexuality lost him his Rockefeller grant.
To this day, sexual advice lines are littered with men and women asking "am I frigid?" or "what's wrong with my penis?" when their missionary fuck doesn't make her come. Apparently, Kinsey's reports haven't been fully absorbed into mainstream sexual knowledge, even today. The sad part about the movie is that we lack this information precisely because of the type of smear campaign that calls any thorough sexual research "perversion." Even now, sex research earns relatively limited funding, which makes sex research on the scale of Kinsey's especially hard to reproduce.
It's funny that on a recent radio interview, Kinsey director Bill Condon (who also directed Gods and Monsters) mentioned having a hard time getting funding for this film. Even while trying to be politic about it, he admitted he believed part of the reason to be the controversy over Kinsey's work. He told stories of the disapproving letters he's received and the people who tried to discourage him from making the film. Likewise, he cited the people, including academics, who have represented Kinsey as a pervert. One especially specious charge is that Kinsey is a pederast, a charge based on a 17-hour interview he conducted with a man who had a lurid sex history (which included boys, girls, close relatives and over 100 different animals). That he collected 17 hours of data from this guy fits in well with the Kinsey who was obsessed with amassing data. This would be the same man who, in order to study gall wasps, felt he had to collect half a million of them. Probably Kinsey's most perverse flaw was insatiable curiosity.
The film shows that Kinsey went so far as to carry his curiosity and experimentation into his personal life. He experimented with sexual positions, with open marriage, with bisexuality, all things that can still bring down the hammer even today. When I saw the movie, a man walked out -- metal clanging at each step of his boots -- on the scene in which Kinsey kisses a young man. You can imagine that when Kinsey's report uncovered both males and females experimenting with homosexuality it was not a popular discovery.
But let's talk about the good stuff: sex. Well, the language used by Professor Kinsey and his research crew is refreshingly graphic -- in an academic sort of way. If you're used to a steady diet of network TV it will definitely be welcome. Neeson's portrayal of Kinsey strikes an intriguing balance between frank sexologist and anal-retentive academic, which really works in scenes where he talks turkey to the heads of august institutions -- like his employer, Indiana University, and his financial backer the Rockefeller foundation. It's especially enjoyable when Kinsey's trying to explain away rumors that he's been examining and photographing female genitalia. There's also a fun scene filmed in Professor Kinsey's course on marriage -- he shows slides of genitalia to his students as they gasp or block their eyes.
But if you're looking for good movie sex, Kinsey is probably not going to help you. Best rent a porn flick. Most of the sex scenes are shot pretty much above the waist, with the odd bare behind and glimpse of jewels -- how did that get by the NC-17? At one point you think you're going to see a depanted woman get up on a stirrup table and expose some vulva, only to get a cut to black-and-white film of her having rather
For any sexual adventurer who's ever felt stifled by the world around them, seeing Kinsey will be liberating. The movie peels back the curtain on the tools used to limit our sexual potential: ignorance and shame. As Kinsey points out, everyone wants to know if they're "normal." From Kinsey's many subjects, all the way to his own father, we see people rejecting their sexuality because the surrounding culture says that NOT to be normal is shameful. Kinsey's work established once and for all that "normal" is as elusive as the Loc Ness monster.
When I saw this film, I had to wonder, if it weren't for the internet, might we wallow in a kind of sexual dark ages for another millennium?
When Kinsey first starts interviewing people all over the country, the film shows a layered montage of people telling their sexual histories. The camera pulls back to a map of the U.S. showing the talking heads of thousands of healthy sexual beings. It was an inspiring bit of cinema, a powerful view of the bond we all share in our human sexuality, whether swinging, or monogamous, gay or straight, masturbating or getting laid, kinky or not. When I saw the network spreading across this U.S. map, I couldn't help thinking of AdultFriendFinder, in the way it links up sexually like-minded people -- except to depict AFF, the map would be have to be a globe :).
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