With an Oscar nomination for writing 2002’s “it” movie, Chicago, and an Oscar win and two nominations for his under-appreciated masterpiece, Gods and Monsters, Bill Condon is quickly becoming the P. Diddy of American Cinema: with every work he drops at least two (nominations) or better.
Most moviegoers still have never heard of Bill Condon. But his sharp wit and almost predatory sense for provocative themes are making Condon the next great American auteur. Kinsey, which Condon wrote and directed, will launch his name from the murky depths of IMDB.com forums to the lips of audiences everywhere.
Kinsey, based on Alfred Kinsey, founder of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, is going to be highly controversial. Condon pulls no punches with Kinsey, choosing to include many of Kinsey’s lesser-known sexual exploits and his very objective (read: non-exclusive) approach to his personal sex life.
“There are things that happened in Kinsey’s life that would have made him more cuddlier,” says Condon, “I was really more concerned about that clinical part of his personality and some of the things that were more difficult about him.”
By touching on everything from bisexuality to pedophilia, Condon realizes his film is likely to receive some negative scrutiny from conservative commentators. But Condon remains optimistic, knowing that “when you take a subject like this one you know that people like that are waiting for you on the other side. I hope those kind of people won’t run the discussion. I hope it gets broaden[ed] out into the general question: how far have we come?”
The answer comes in the film’s immense modern relevance: while a few of the 1950s’ sillier notions of sexual behavior have been dispelled—largely because of Kinsey’s seminal study, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male—many continue to regard some natural sexual urges as immoral. Most recently, eleven states voted to ban gay marriage. For those to whom such reactions to homosexuality and bisexuality seem irrational, the film will resonate particularly deeply after the election led eleven states to ban gay marriage.
But Kinsey also takes sex into a broader sociological context by dramatizing the fatal flaw of Kinsey’s research and personal sex life. Kinsey was the first person to ever study sex objectively, an inherently flawed occupation because “sex [is] a factory of emotion,” says Condon. This was an “inconvenient thought for [Kinsey] because he was trying to separate sex and study it completely from a scientific perspective.”
According to Condon, the film is ultimately about, “the connection [sex] makes between people…[this] contradictory aspect of his endeavor. Sex is never just about sex and he was trying to make it just about sex and that’s almost impossible.”
Kinsey is more or less a traditional bio flick, fraught with melodramatic dialectics and plot points that you will see coming a mile away; however, Condon’s style keeps getting in the way of all that. Though working with conventional Hollywood filmmaking and storytelling techniques, Condon manages to bring an artistic sensibility to enervated Hollywood clichés.
With Gods and Monsters, a fictionalized biography of the last days of Frankenstein director James Whale, and Kinsey, Condon aligns himself with the great pantheon of directors like John Ford, Douglas Sirk and Francis Ford Coppola who bring auteurist pizzazz to classical Hollywood filmmaking structures.
This style of filmmaking is obviously very appealing to Condon, particularly in Gods and Monsters and Kinsey, “because it so reflects the time in which they’re happening and then taking that and obviously reinventing it. You sort of wanna both look to reflect your time, but you want to speak in a language that’s universal over time not only over different cultures.”
Condon, the avid film lover, loves to “watch movies age. The ones that sort of speak in the most contemporary languages are inevitably the ones that sort of fade the fastest, you use certain things when they’re appropriate.”
In an era, where pop filmmaking strokes are misappropriated incessantly to make up for a lack of depth in the subject material, Condon is not only using those techniques sparingly and effectively, but delving into classical Hollywood language and pulling out something that is totally unexpected.
Indeed, Kinsey is a film, in both its technique and content, about reinterpreting classical dialogues in attempt to understand them and maximize their discursive potentials. Whether it’s sex or continuity editing, Condon has his finger on the pulse of something big.