Looking back at Bill Condon’s directorial efforts inevitably brings to mind the Roger Corman school of filmmaking.
Condon’s first feature as a director was the low-budget psychological thriller “Sister, Sister,” which he co-wrote with Ginny Cerella and Joel Cohen.
He continued in a similar vein with a number of TV titles, hitting the bigscreen, again, with “Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh” (1995) before truly making his mark with “Gods and Monsters” (1998), for which he won a screenwriting Oscar. He followed up with another Oscar nom for scripting “Chicago,” and this year has drawn praise for “Kinsey,” which he both wrote and directed.
“I started out making low-budget horror/thrillers,” said Condon during a recent visit to his native New York, “and in that genre, it really is all about making the audience want to know what happens next. It was good training, I think, because no matter what the film, if the audience doesn’t want to know what happens next, you’re lost.”
It’s difficult to argue with a director who can make that happen, do it on a tight budget and wrap the film on time. It’s a skill set that has allowed Condon to segue into higher-profile yet artistically rigorous fare.
“There is an advantage to having only $11 million,” he says, referring to the “Kinsey” pricetag. “You don’t have the weight of the world riding on the movie, so you don’t have to simplify what you’re doing. You’re not going for the lowest common denominator.”
Oddly enough, it’s that lack of simplicity that has made “Kinsey” a target of the far right, specifically Concerned Women of America. “If you look at ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ people know what they think of Jesus Christ and George Bush. But, for the most part, people don’t really remember Kinsey. I think that’s why this fringe group seems to really want to define him before people get to the movie,” he says. “I feel that if you’re unsympathetic to him, you’ll find plenty in the film to confirm that point of view. But with the fringe groups, it’s (complete evil) or nothing.”
At the same time, an absence of budgetary largesse can spur creativity on a practical level, as well. Many of the actors who portrayed college students in Alfred Kinsey’s Indiana classrooms, for example, did double duty.
“We shot them against a white background and used them for the sex histories as well,” explains the director.
Personal sex histories are at the center of the film, because, after all, it was Kinsey’s dogged collection of them that made him the pioneer that he was. They also provided the through-line that enabled Condon to condense one man’s life and work into 120 minutes.
“It was really in the second draft that I sat down and said, ‘OK, what’s unique to Kinsey?’ ” Condon recalls, “and high on that list was the sex history technique that he developed. I realized that we could use his own sex history to establish that and I thought, ‘Could it be that simple?’ And I tried it and was really pleased with the results.”
The depiction of the gathering of the sex histories perfectly evokes the curious dichotomy of scientifically quantifying the deeply personal and individualistic matter of human sexuality. As A.O. Scott wrote of Alfred Kinsey in the New York Times, “In publishing his findings, he horrified some readers and titillated others, but the implications of his work, as presented in this humane and serious film, go far beyond mammalian physiology or human behavior. Each of us is different, and none of us is alone.”
Whether it’s horror or sex on screen, isn’t that what sends so many of us to darkened movie theaters?