Directed by Barak Goodman and John Maggio
Narrated By Campbell Scott
Released by: PBS Home Video.
My Advice: Catch it on cable.
He’s been called a pedophile and a pioneer. He was said to have enlightened American culture and be responsible for its degradation. He was passionate in his cause of sexual liberation even while he was confining sex into facts and figures. Even now he and his work generate controversy and disagreement. And all this from a rather square zoology professor from a Midwest university who studied a flightless wasp. But when you want to talk about sex and especially when you want to tell the truth about sex, things are bound to get complicated. So the PBS series American Experience looks into the complicated life of Alfred Kinsey, the man who exposed America to its own sexual behavior.
Usually I give documentaries a hard time that use the standard format of talking head experts, film clips, and a ubiquitous narrator. But with Kinsey, flashy innovative style isn’t really needed. Not when you have sex to keep your interest. In fact, the documentary does feature Kinsey’s bisexuality, his encouragement of his staff to “enjoy each other’s company,” and his practice of filming various sex acts to study physical responses. To their credit the show doesn’t portray them in a tabloid titillating manner but puts them in context. Kinsey believed in sexual freedom and did encourage his staff likewise but was adamant about not letting these flings damage their primary relationship.
Of course, the whole “talking about sex is a sin against God and country” is mentioned, but actual legitimate criticisms of Kinsey are presented. For instance, the Rockefeller Institute, the foundation funding the study, recommended that Kinsey use a random sampling of people instead of taking thousands upon thousands of sex histories. Also, they felt that Kinsey’s interviews skewed too much to the educated and fringe groups to be totally valid. Still, as we hear from people who knew the good professor and those who studied his life and work, Kinsey truly believed that a great deal of pain could be alleviated by clearing up the confusion and ignorance people have about sex. Kinsey could speak from personal experience from the difficulties he and his wife had consummating their marriage to his coming to terms with his own bisexuality. He believed that truth and rationality should replace dogma and superstition.
The documentary, for obvious reasons, ends at Kinsey’s death. I would have liked to seen how the research he started has continued and changed over the years or what happened to Kinsey’s associates. This would have been a natural for some extras for the DVD, but there’s nothing on the disc. So I can only recommend catching American Experience: Kinsey on TV.