Bill Condon goes from 'Candyman' to 'Kinsey'-man
Director takes sexual history of Kinsey
Many people may be shocked to hear that writer-director Bill Condon was responsible for "Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh." It's true - the man who won an Oscar for his 1999 screenplay "Gods and Monsters" used to direct bad horror movies. But Condon, who also wrote the screenplay for 2002's "Chicago," has come a long way since his horror days.
Now, instead of frightening us with blood and gore, he's shocking us with penises and masturbation. His new film, "Kinsey," is a biopic of sex biologist Alfred Kinsey, who performed numerous sex studies during the 1950s and was largely responsible for much of what we know about human sexuality today.
Condon shared his thoughts on male nudity, sex education and what it's like to be a gay director in Hollywood in an interview with The Eagle at a hotel in downtown D.C. a few weeks ago.
The Eagle: Why did you decide to make a movie about Alfred Kinsey?
Condon: I started to read about him, his ideas more than anything. I thought they are still so relevant. I was amazed by how people didn't hear them back then and still probably aren't hearing them today.
You take that basic idea about collecting millions of gall wasps and applying that idea to sexuality, that everyone's sexuality is different - not whether they like men or women, but just in general, the range of what they do. And there's always a tension between that and the fact that everybody wants to be normal, to fit in, and that sometimes we sacrifice our individual sexuality in order to feel comfortable and be part of the group. I think we feel that we're very free, but people still put a lot of pressure on people to fit in in some way.
Eagle: Why did you decide to format the film as Kinsey's sex history?
Condon: I wanted to show scenes from his childhood and early marriage because they really affected the project and how he became who he was. It took me a long time, but finally it was like, "Oh my God, the whole movie could just be his sex history." Each of these questions could prompt a scene that would be, in a way, an answer to the question. It felt like a way to very quickly encapsulate scenes from his entire life.
Eagle: Do you think much has changed in society since Kinsey did his sex studies?
Condon: I think the amazing thing is that a lot has changed and that a lot has stayed the same. But I do think you can't help but look at the movie and understand that, in many many ways, there's been progress. You can't say that Kinsey is responsible for this, but two of the big revolutions of past 50 years have been the women's movement and the gay movement, and Kinsey did have a little to do with both of those. I wouldn't be sitting here as an openly gay filmmaker in the mid-'50s - they didn't exist. That is partly because of the discussion [Kinsey] started about sex and about what people were actually doing as opposed to what they ought to be doing.
Eagle: Is the discussion of abstinence education in the film in any way a comment on the Bush administration's take on sex education?
Condon: One of the biographers of Kinsey wrote something, which I thought was so right. He said, "This is the most licentious culture since Rome, and it's the most puritanical ever invented." We have both of those things happening at the same time all the time, so I don't think you can really single it out as being just one administration. It's just there in our culture.
Eagle: Was the film in danger of getting an NC-17 rating?
Condon: We were really nervous about that, thinking it was going to, and got the call saying, "We're going to give it an R, thank you, we learned a lot." I think it's probably because it's not trying to turn you on - even though there are very explicit images, it's done in a more clinical way, and I think that's how we got away with it. But I was definitely worried about it.
Eagle: Do you think people will be offended by the film?
Condon: I've seen people be offended by it. I think it's a litmus test for how much of this you can take. It's not so much the imagery, but it's the nonstop talk about sex. I can't think of another movie that talked this much about sex. And I think there are people, who, at a certain point, think, "Ooh, that's enough." Again, there are people - and you'll be reading about them - who have demonized [Kinsey] for the past 50 years. They feel that Kinsey was responsible for the slide of our civilization and that somehow if they can ruin his reputation, the last 50 years will go away. So those people will definitely be offended.
Eagle: Why do you think so many film directors shy away from showing male frontal nudity?
Condon: I don't know. It's a good question. I think it's probably because it's still a hugely disproportionate number of men - straight men - making movies. It's amazing that we're in this world now where there's still as few female directors. I think that has something to do with it honestly. It's still a little unexpected in American movies.
Eagle: What do you hope viewers will take from this film?
Condon: A few things. I'd be disappointed if anyone thought it was a quaint film about where we were 50 years ago. I hope that viewers understand the relevance of it. And also, project themselves in the movie: "Where am I on that scale? How would I answer that question? What is it about my own sexuality that I feel slightly uncomfortable about?" One of the big ideas [Kinsey] had was that most people believe that what they do sexually is what everyone does sexually. How much of your own point of view do you try to impose on the world? I think that more than anything - acceptance of other people's differences.