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Wednesday 14 April 2010

On TV: Kinsey

Posted in: Movies
By Chris Banks - 29th October 2009

The true story of seminal US sexuality researcher Dr Albert Kinsey - whose work changed our lives for the better - plays on TV3 this Saturday 31 October at 10:30pm. Here's's review of the film from when it was out in cinemas.

Dr Alfred Kinsey is a landmark American figure in gay/lesbian history, as one of the first scientific voices to lend evidential weight to debunk claims that homosexuality was abnormal.

Liam Neeson as Kinsey
Based on interviews with thousands of subjects, he developed a spectrum of human sexuality with what became known as the Kinsey scale – '0' being exclusively heterosexual and '6' exclusively homosexual. Kinsey believed very few of us were at either end, most would find ourselves at some point in the middle.

Fascinating, earnest, and very scientific. But is it worth a movie, and should we be interested in seeing it? The answer is an emphatic yes, if for no other reason than the Christian right in America considered this film so dangerous they ignored the Asian tsunami on their websites in favour of rallying campaigns to stop Kinsey being seen.

Kinsey emerges as a fascinating figure, a man obsessed by his work, sometimes to his detriment, yet his enthusiasm was so pervasive he dragged everyone along for the ride, students, his bosses at the university, and his family. He was a social and sexual liberal in a time of stifling puritanic conservatism. And, as the film shows, he was one of the first to debunk Christian junk science and replace it with solid evidence about real human behaviour.

Liam Neeson plays Kinsey in one of his most charismatic and well-rounded performances to date. You get a real sense of Kinsey's dedication to his work, but also his immense concern for the individual. When developing the sexual history interviews that would form the basis of his works on sexual behaviour, we see Kinsey training his interviewers, berating them for appearing judgmental, uncomfortable, or using overly-scientific language that would confuse the subjects.

And as for his private life? Well, if some of the things Kinsey was up to were going on in the 1940's, it makes you wonder what some of those researchers at the AIDS Foundation are up to right now.

Kinsey grew up in a world where kids were still taught in classes and textbooks that masturbation would lead to insanity, and oral sex could lead to fertility and pregnancy difficulties. Despite this repressive atmosphere, Kinsey was fascinated to discover in his sexual history interviews that human sexuality was more diverse than the public had ever imagined.

Along the way, he realises this about himself as well, leading to sex with a male student, that same male student having sex with his wife, wife-swapping among his students, and the filming of what can only be described as “science porn” – involving his students having sex with various test subjects – in order to observe sexual behaviour and response to stimuli.

As the film shows, much of the public was not ready for the sexual revolution when Kinsey's books were published in the late forties and early fifties, especially on the publication of his second book, “Sexual Behaviour In The Human Female”. As Kinsey's wife says, what did he expect? He told the American public that their mothers, daughters, and grandmothers were masturbating and engaging in sex with other women.

Abusive phone calls, mud-smearing in the tabloid press, loss of research grants, and threats from the FBI to reveal the identities of the gay men he had interviewed were some of the prices paid for debunking what he labelled outdated morality dressed up as science. But despite the adversity he faces, Kinsey continues in his work, and we are left in no doubt that his work has changed people's lives – especially gays and lesbians – for the better.

Director Bill Condon has assembled a stellar supporting cast as well, including Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell, Tim Curry, John Lithgow, and Vanessa Redgrave. Every performance rings true to life and escapes the dreaded movie-of-the-week feel that often accompanies bio-pics like this. The life of a scientific researcher has never seemed more interesting.

The official trailer for Kinsey appears below.

Chris Banks - 29th October 2009

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