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At the beginning of the film, black-and-white footage of "Alfred C. Kinsey," played by Liam Neeson, training his three assistants on techniques for taking sex histories is interspersed with color footage of Kinsey's early life as he answers their questions. Kinsey's wife, "Clara `Mac' McMillen," played by Laura Linney, also appears in the interview footage, which continues for approximately the first twenty minutes of the film. The opening and ending cast credits vary slightly in order. As the end credits roll, black-and-white footage of animals mating, obtained from the Kinsey Institute, is shown.
Among the individuals and groups thanked during the end credits are Indiana University, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction and Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, the author of the book Sex, the Measure of All Things: A Life of Alfred C. Kinsey (Great Britain, 1998). According to the 2004 paperback edition of Gathorne-Hardy's book, it was the "factual and intellectual backing" for the picture. Also thanked in the picture's credits is documentary filmmaker Diane Ward, whose 1989 public television documentary, Sex and the Scientist, was used as source material for Kinsey. The film ends with a disclaimer noting that while it is "inspired by actual historical events," "certain characters, events and dialogue" were fictionalized.
As depicted in the film, Alfred C. Kinsey (23 June 1894-25 August 1956) first began his professional scientific career as a zoologist. At Indiana University (Bloomington), where he was a zoology professor, Kinsey met chemistry student and fellow nature enthusiast McMillen (Oct 1898-April 1982); the couple married in 1921. Known by colleagues as "Get a Million Kinsey" for his dedication to collecting gall wasp specimens, Kinsey, over twenty years of studying the insects, became one of the foremost entomologists and taxonomists in the country. Kinsey, nicknamed "Prok" by students at a summer camp at which he counseled, had four children with Mac. Their eldest child, Donald, died when he was four years old. [In a December 17, 2004 Entertainment Weekly article, writer-director Bill Condon stated that he did not include the death of Donald in the film in order to avoid making Kinsey appear "warmer and fuzzier."] Although the picture presents a semi-reconciliation between Kinsey and his father when Kinsey takes his father's sex history, in real life, Kinsey rarely saw his father after arguing with him over his decision to become a biologist instead of an engineer. After Kinsey, Sr. divorced his wife in order to marry another woman in 1930, Kinsey ceased all contact with him.
In 1938, when students began demanding more informative sex education, Kinsey taught the biology portion of the first "marriage course" at Indiana University and became interested in studying human sexual behavior. Although it was not shown in the film, civic and religious groups, as well as jealous colleagues, protested when Kinsey began taking the sexual histories of the marriage class students. In 1940, Indiana University president Herman Wells, despite his support of Kinsey, was forced to ask the scientist to choose between teaching the course or taking histories. Kinsey stopped teaching the class, although it was continued by other professors.
Kinsey developed a specialized interview technique to address an average of 300 questions about more than 200 different types of sexual behavior. Along with his three main assistants-Clyde Martin, Wardell Pomeroy and Paul Gebhard-Kinsey used an elaborate written code, the key to which was known only to themselves, to record the answers of the thousands of people whom they interviewed. Kinsey's goal was to obtain 100,000 histories over the course of twenty years, which he intended to use in nine books detailing different aspects of human sexuality.
Kinsey's first volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, was published in 1948 to enormous critical and popular acclaim. Kinsey's second book about sex, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, was published in 1953. Although it, too, initially received good reviews and was well-received by the public, a huge backlash, largely led by religious and conservative groups, enveloped Kinsey in a storm of controversy. As shown in the film, the Rockefeller Foundation, which had funded Kinsey for thirteen years through the National Research Council, withdrew its financial support, leaving Kinsey scrambling to keep afloat the Institute for Sex Research (ISR), which he had founded in 1947.
Among the financial drains on the ISR was the lawsuit it was involved with against the U.S. Customs Department. The suit began in 1950 when the Customs Dept., declaring that the material was "grossly obscene," seized a shipment of erotica that Kinsey had imported to add to the institute's massive collection of erotic literature, art, photographs and artifacts. The case, which dragged on until after Kinsey's death, was won by the institute in July 1957, when a federal district court judge ruled that explicit materials collected solely for scholarly research could not be considered pornographic.
Although Kinsey's free thinking and sexual practices, which included having numerous affairs with both women and men, such as Martin and Pomeroy, have spurred ongoing controversy, he is also widely commended for his nonjudgmental attitude toward his subjects, his progressive scientific and interviewing methods and his urging of tolerance toward homosexuality, which his statistics attempted to show was a normal part of human sexuality. By the time of his death, Kinsey had laid the groundwork for several more volumes and numerous studies. From 1938 to 1963, when the interview project ceased, the institute gathered more than 18,000 histories, a third of which had been taken personally by Kinsey. The ISR was renamed the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in 1982 and continues to use Kinsey's huge reservoir of data.
The idea of making a film about Kinsey first appealed to producer Gail Mutrux in late 1995, according to a December 6, 1995 Hollywood Reporter news item. At that time, Mutrux intended to produce the project with partner Katie Jacobs and co-producer Amanda Nelligan at Fox 2000. Mutrux purchased a script about Kinsey from screenwriter David Ives in December 1995, although later news items reported that Ives's work was not used in the final film. According to a January 12, 2005 Los Angeles Times article, in 1996, Mutrux signed Tom Fontana, with whom she had worked on the television show Homicide: Life on the Street, to write a script for Kinsey. The article stated that Fontana dropped out of the project before "handing in a completed draft...because his TV responsibilities were too consuming."
In December 1999, Hollywood Reporter announced that Mutrux had signed Bill Condon to work on the project, which was to be based on Gathorne-Hardy's biography of Kinsey as well as Ward's documentary. The article stated that Fox 2000 vice-president Ashley Kramer was "overseeing the project for the studio" at that time. An October 2002 Daily Variety article noted that Condon "based his original screenplay on elements in the [Gathorne-Hardy] biography combined with his own original research on Kinsey," and that he had spent more than a year working on the script. It was also stated that Myriad Pictures official Lucas Foster would serve as an executive producer along with Kirk D'Amico. Although D'Amico is credited onscreen, Foster's contribution to the completed picture, if any, has not been determined.
In January 2003, the website for the Indiana University student paper, www.idsnews.com, reported that Condon first approached George Clooney to play Kinsey, and after Clooney turned down the part, actors Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Bridges and Michael Douglas were considered before Liam Neeson was cast. The October 2002 Daily Variety article reported that actor Ian McKellen, who had worked with Condon on the 1998 Academy Award-winning film Gods and Monsters, was "in negotiations to play a composite of real characters as the film's host." On his personal website, McKellen noted in June 2004 that although he had wanted to appear in the film, the supporting character he was to play, based on Kinsey colleague Clarence A. Tripp, was dropped before filming began. According to studio press notes, Tripp was one of "scores of people who had known and worked with Kinsey" whom Condon interviewed while researching the picture.
Several 2002 Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items reported that the film, which encountered funding difficulties, initially was to be distributed domestically by United Artists, which had a distribution deal with executive producer Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope company, one of Kinsey's financial backers. A February 25, 2002 Hollywood Reporter article stated that the film's budget was to be capped at ten million dollars in accordance with Zoetrope's pact with UA. The deal for UA to distribute the picture eventually fell through, although Myriad Pictures, another financial backer, stayed on to distribute the picture internationally. Mutrux took the project to Fox Searchlight Pictures and the English company Qwerty Films to obtain domestic distribution and additional financing, according to a July 2003 Daily Variety report. The January 2005 Los Angeles Times article adds that Mutrux and her husband, producer Tony Ganz, invested their own money in the project, which "was rejected by 87 studios and film companies" before Mutrux finalized the complicated financing.
Many of the crew, such as editor Virginia Katz, music composer Carter Burwell, production designer Richard Sherman and costume designer Bruce Finlayson, had previously worked with Condon on Gods and Monsters. Actors Liam Neeson and Laura Linney had appeared together in a 2002 Broadway revival of the play The Crucible, and in several interviews, credited their previous close working relationship with their ease in filming Kinsey. According to studio press notes, as well as information on the Kinsey Institute website, Condon, Neeson and Sherman visited the Indiana University campus where they toured the institute's collections and conducted more interviews of people who had known Kinsey and his colleagues.
In studio press notes, Condon explained that he deliberately chose not to identify the film's time periods overtly with "title cards or superimposed dates" in order to "achieve an almost timeless quality in the later parts of the film-to convey the idea that in some ways things haven't changed at all." According to the presskit, the picture was shot on location in New York and New Jersey. Among the key locations in New York were Fordham University, Bronx Community College and Columbia University's historic Havemeyer lecture hall. New Jersey locations included a nineteenth-century house in Plainfield that served as the Kinsey family home and a building at Letchworth Village in Stony Point that was transformed into Kinsey's laboratory. Due to the film's tight budget, Burwell's music score was recorded with only eleven musicians, according to the presskit.
Much controversy engulfed the picture both during production and after its release. Numerous conservative and religious groups attempted to influence the filmmakers not to make the picture, according to trade and newspaper reports. New York public television station WNET refused to run an advertisement for the film upon its release, claiming that it could not "risk viewer complaints," according to a November 22, 2004 Daily Variety news item. Some groups, such as Focus on the Family and the Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute, threatened to picket the film and also urged their members to boycott all Fox releases for one year.
Despite the contentiousness surrounding the film, Kinsey garnered excellent reviews, with Time calling it "a smart social satire masquerading as a biopic," and Hollywood Reporter terming it a "lively, beautifully written and acted portrait." Neeson and Linney were both highly praised for their acting. Los Angeles Times asserted that the role represented Neeson's "most fully realized performance," and the New York Times critic added that Linney played her role with "forthrightness, delicacy and a brisk sense of mischief." Actress Lynn Redgrave, who is Neeson's wife's aunt, also received excellent notices for her cameo as Kinsey's final interview subject. Laura Linney's father, playwright Romulus Linney, appears in the picture as "Rep. B. Carroll Reece." While also lauding the film's factual accuracy, a number of reviewers commented on its political and cultural timeliness, with the Village Voice calling it "one [of] the year's most politically relevant movies."
In addition to being named one of the top ten films of the year by AFI, Kinsey was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Drama and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature. Other Independent Spirit nominations included Best Screenplay, Best Male Lead (Neeson) and Best Supporting Male (Peter Sarsgaard) Neeson and Linney also received Golden Globe nominations for their acting, with Linney being named Best Supporting Actress of the year by the National Board of Review and receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and a nomination for Female Actor in a Supporting Role by the Screen Actors Guild. Neeson was also cited as Best Actor of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Bill Condon received a Best Original Screenplay nomination from the Writers Guild. Time, Newsweek and New York Times were among the other organizations naming Kinsey one of the top ten films of 2004, and according to the January 12, 2005 Los Angeles Times article, over 110 groups placed the film on their top ten lists.