LIAM NEESON AND LAURA LINNEY STAR IN KINSEY, a new movie by Director Bill Condon, scheduled to be released November 12th. This film is powerful, political, and needs to be out in October.
Fox Searchlight Productions, the independent film arm of Fox, is distributing the film — and the folks there are into thoughtful social and political commentary. I hosted a film screening for Bill Condon — Academy Award winning writer and director who wrote and directed Gods and Monsters and wrote Chicago — with a bunch of policy wonk friends of mine at the Motion Picture Association of America theatre in Washington last week.
But Tuesday night, I saw the movie again courtesy of Gloria Steinem and Tina Brown who hosted a star-studded screening and dinner in New York. First, I want to tell you about the party — because it was useful to hear what the movie set thinks of Bush and Kerry. Secondly, I want to chat about the film a bit.
Gloria Steinem loved the film as I did and handed me a copy of Lara Riscol’s “Sex, Lies and Politics,” which appeared in the August 30th issue of The Nation (which has it blocked to all except subscribers and those without the secret key). Riscol starts her piece:
Throwing a bone to its sex-obsessed religious base, the GOP has slipped an abstinence activist into its convention mix of mostly moderate speakers. Miss America 2003 will put a smiley face on President Bush’s bulging chastity industry, for whcih he has allotted $273 million in his 2005 budget, plus a third of the $15 billion global AIDS-relief package.
The ascendancy of abstinence-only under Bush has not only altered funding priorities; it has sanctioned a climate of hostility toward sexual health professionals, who increasingly face harassment, intimidation, and marginalization if they stray from the abstinence-only-unless-married line.
Lara Riscol mentions Alfred Kinsey as one of the victims of a smear campaign by those allied with Bush’s abstinence investments.
Steinem impressed me as someone who understands how global sensibilities and lifestyles will be badly shocked by four more years of the Bush administration. She talked to me about the deteriorating state of women in both Iraq and Afghanistan and said that the White House has done nothing — either symbolic or real — to highlight in both these places why a reversion to the subordination of women in theocratic, male-dominated societies would be not only horrible for those countries, but for the world.
I realize that Steinem is a lightning rod, but my personal encounter with her and her politics was only positive. I also spoke with Laura Linney, who won my affection for her role in Armistead Maupin‘s Tales of the City, as well as Liam Neesen and Lynn Redgrave. All three seemed politically aware, had the sense that their film Kinsey was in fact a profound political commentary on our times (much more subtle than Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11), but not willing to go further in their comments. Linney felt like I did that she wished the movie was coming out before the election. I think that both Linney and Neesen will be nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.
Regarding the film itself, Bill Condon has told the story of Indiana University professor Alfred Kinsey who took his study of variations among more than a million galwasps and applied his methods to human beings. The 1948 release of his book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, was one of the most deeply disruptive/constructive events of the last century. Condon tells this story brilliantly — and makes people squirm in their seats just enough that one can get a sense of how challenging it is for a society to be “rewired” on matters like sex and social norms.
What Condon celebrates, I think, in this film is an episode where science and rationality, the Englightenment as it were, beat back unthinking norms based on a perverse politicization of religion and faith. I enjoyed learning that the Rockefeller Foundation was the first major funder of Kinsey’s work. I stayed up at John D. Rockefeller’s house, Kykuit, the other day courtesy of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (a different Rockefeller family foundation; check out their U.S. in the World project of which I was a task force member).
I don’t want to give away all of the great material in this film, which also starred the brilliant Peter Sarsgaard (who played Chuck Lane in Shattered Glass for those outraged as I was by Stephen Glass’s duplicity at the New Republic and saw the film), Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Chris O’Donnell, Tim Curry, and others.
This film made it ever clear to me that the stakes in the upcoming election are profound on many fronts, but are perhaps greatest in that the next president will appoint at least three Supreme Court justices. When it comes to issues like sexual freedom, womens’ right to choose, and privacy — the world as we shaped it, through the efforts of people like Alfred Kinsey (a hard core Republican as Bill Condon reported to me), could be dramatically changed.
So, see the film.
Note to my Fox Searchlight friends — you really should get lots and lots of people to early, unofficial releases — but don’t tell Rupert Murdoch.
I was out way too late that night — which is why it has taken me so long to recover to tell this story and conceptualize and articulate why I think Kinsey has so much political punch.
I think that the Bush administration is rewiring us to go back to a time where rationality and intelligence are choked and shrouded by unthinking faith politically applied.
That evening, I had the pleasure of meeting a guy whom I thought was just interesting and had no idea he was famous and had a cultish following until later that night when Japanese friends nearly passed out when I mentioned his name.
John Cameron Mitchell, writer and star of the stage show and movie, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, had the best political mind of the night — well, next to Bill Condon’s and Steinem’s.
Mitchell is the son of an old Washington family, his dad a general, his grandfather the first head of Social Security. He is brilliant and informed on political issues, which is all we discussed because I didn’t know much about his creative life.
He will be joining Sandra Bernhard at a political “Freedom to Marry” fundraiser the night of October 5th at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. So, catch him there and tell him I sent you.
I also spoke with Tina Brown, one of the divas of the night, but had no encounter worth reporting. She was busy making sure that the stars were talking to the stars (for camera purposes), but Dr. Ruth was there — and she told me she supports Kerry too.
— Steve Clemons