Mainstream Hollywood has never been as interesting about sex as it is in the new Kinsey film. It's a strike against the new social conservatism of Americaby Olivia Judson / April 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
The lovers who frolic through mainstream films are mostly beautiful and young—and dull. From Hollywood, we get the missionary position or, on special occasions, the woman on top. Occasionally a different sort of film makes it to the cinema. I can think of a couple of recent examples: Innocence, which includes a scene of an old woman masturbating, and Secretary, which investigates consensual sadistic sex. But usually the variety of human sexual experience is absent, the positions of The Joy of Sex off the menu. If you want to discover what arouses real people, an inspection of the videos in your local porn shop is more likely to be instructive than an evening at a UGC cinema. But even at the porn shop, a sense of what sex is actually like for people—the frustrations, joys, anxieties; the reality, banality and sublimity—is missing. Kinsey: Let’s Talk About Sex is different.
Alfred C Kinsey was the first person to try, in a systematic fashion, to document the diversity of our sexual experiences, to find out who does what with whom and how often. For this he invented a new approach: the face to face interview. He convened a team to travel around the US and ask thousands of people about their sex lives—masturbation, wet dreams, first sexual encounters, homosexual experiences, visits to prostitutes, oral sex, premarital sex, orgasm, adultery and so on. The results, published in two volumes, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), shocked America, brought Kinsey instant notoriety, and transformed our understanding of human sexuality. Kinsey the movie is thus at once the story of a man’s life, a social commentary, a scientific inquiry and a kaleidoscopic view of the landscape of sexual experiences. It is an ambitious mix, but by and large it succeeds.
The device for depicting all this is Kinsey’s own face to face technique. The film opens with Kinsey himself—magnificently played by Liam Neeson—giving his sex history to a young man who is being taught how to interview someone so that they will speak openly. (One: make sure the interviewee understands the answers are completely confidential. Two: keep the questions simple and don’t talk in euphemisms. Three: appear non-judgemental; don’t frown or shift uncomfortably, but nod, smile, and look straight into the other person’s eyes.) As the young man asks questions, we get flashbacks from Kinsey’s life.…