You don't need to look any further than the Janet Jackson "Boobgate" scandal to realize that we, as a country, still have very schizophrenic feelings about sex in modern-day America. The frenzy and subsequent shockwaves that spiraled out-of-control in the wake of Justin Timberlake's errant grab are still being felt today, over a year later. The idea that a woman's naked breast would cause such consternation and uproar, to the point that cartoon nudity is pixelated and TV resembles the era of Beaver Cleaver rather than Homer Simpson, is astonishing, funny and infuriating.
It's appropriate then, that writer/director Bill Condon's riveting biopic of sex researcher Alfred P. Kinsey is all of those things. Kinsey is a film very much of its times, despite being set almost 50 years ago. It's a film that deals with, as one Kinsey biographer describes it, "a country with the most licentious society since Rome and the most Puritanical society in the history of the world" and its reaction to the groundbreaking studies of men and women's sexuality in the early Fifties.
Starring Liam Neeson as the titular academic and Laura Linney as his lifetime companion, Clara "Mac" Mackinnon, Kinsey is also a stirring human drama that views life through the sometimes harsh prism of academia and research. Kinsey was a controversial figure in his day and remains one, even in 2005 - the idea that someone would take what most people discuss behind closed doors and offer it up for public discussion and scrutiny was a hot button situation in the Fifties and still is, a half century on.
While Condon addresses the controversy and its effects, he's also interested in the spiky contradictions of Kinsey, the son of a Pentacostal minister (played by John Lithgow) who forbade sex in all its forms and maintained an estranged relationship with his son over the years. The ramifications of this stunted relationship form some of the most dramatic elements in Kinsey. Bisexuality, homosexuality, open marriages, pedophilia - all of these subjects Kinsey tackled head-on and so too does Kinsey. Condon trusts his brave cast - which also includes a stunning performance from Peter Sarsgaard as Kinsey's assistant Clyde, Timothy Hutton, Chris O'Donnell and a wonderful cameo from Lynn Redgrave - to go into some prickly areas, taking the audience with them.
Obviously, the film deals with some delicate subject matter that may not appeal to everyone, but it should be noted that what's included here is dealt with in the most tasteful manner; Condon and crew have not made an exploitative film that traffics in lewd imagery - they've crafted a passionate, heartfelt and poignant examination of one man and his dogged pursuit of understanding. Kinsey is one of the best American films of 2004 and deserves to find an audience ready to embrace it, no matter what the puritanical powers that be may say.
Kinsey is presented in a sparkling 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that highlights Frederick Elmes' burnished period cinematography - blacks are solid, there's few defects and the colors look rich and smooth throughout. A gorgeous looking transfer.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is offered here, as is Dolby 2.0 stereo - Carter Burwell's lovely score is given appropriate heft and since Kinsey is largely a film driven by scads of dialogue, all of the numerous speaking roles are heard clearly and without distortion. It's an excellent counterpart to the beautiful visuals.
It should be noted here that Kinsey is offered in two different editions: the single disc wide/fullscreen version with only a commentary track by Condon and this two-disc special edition, which includes the Condon commentary on the first disc and the bulk of the special features on the second. Where this special edition shines is in the bonus material - it's readily apparent that a lot of thought went into the making of these supplemental features, as well as a healthy dose of humor. Perhaps the only complaint is that there's a fair bit of overlap between various features, but it's not enough to really distract from the quality of what's presented.
Condon's commentary track is articulate, intelligent and insightful; he explains the long making-of process as well as detailing some of the political entanglements this film had to avoid during pre and post-production. It's a great, relaxed track that nicely captures the drive and passion Condon feels concerning his subject. On the second disc, the real meat can be found in the 83-minute, full-screen "The Kinsey Report: Sex on Film," a behind-the-scenes, nearly feature-length documentary that interviews all of the principals associated with making the film, as well as some Kinsey Institute researchers and low-level production assistants. It functions on two levels: providing a considerable biography on Kinsey, as well as detailing the breakneck making-of of Kinsey. Throughout "Sex on Film," various cast and crew are asked some of the penetrating questions posed by Kinsey's staff in the film - the answers, more often than not, are as insightful as they are hilarious.
The teaser and theatrical trailers for Kinsey, both presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, are included - as is a full-screen trailer for What The Bleep Do We Know?. A total of 20 deleted scenes, all presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and running an aggregate of 25 minutes, are offered with or without commentary from Condon, who elaborates upon the scene's place in the film and why it was cut. The deleted scenes are available separately or played all together. The non-anamorphic, three minute gag reel consists mainly of the cast goofing off and invariably cracking up at the intensely personal interview questions. "Sex Ed: At The Kinsey Institute" is a six minute, 30 second featurette detailing some of the exhibits on display at the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, IN.
The final, and perhaps niftiest, feature included is an interactive sex survey - meant to measure your "tendency for sexual excitation and exhibition," it's a 45-question quiz that features several screens of dense clinical information but is cool in the way it sort of places you in the shoes of those who submitted themselves to Kinsey and his team of researchers. Don't worry - the disc doesn't secretly transmit your answers to the government or anything; feel free to answer truthfully.
Kinsey is a bold, brilliant film that's unfortunately extremely timely in its dissection of American values and how sex fits into that equation. The cast is uniformly excellent, Condon's script is a multi-layered character drama that is both poignant and fascinating and it's one of the best American films of 2004. This two-disc special edition provides some context for the film and is worth spending time with. Very highly recommended.