Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist And Rebel

Hugh HefnerBBB.5

(out of 5)

The three appellations of the title are just some of the things you learn about the magnificently infamous subject of this highly entertaining documentary. The only man in the world who can wear pyjamas all day long without making a woman angry,  built the beginnings of an empire when, in the 1950s, armed with a degree in psychology and a desire to open up America’s prudish attitudes towards sex, he published his magazine Playboy (originally titled Stag Party). Placing as much emphasis on the quality of its journalism (both fiction and non) as on the lovely young ladies in various states of undress whose photographs graced the pages of the magazine, Hefner was an overnight success whose embodiment of ritzy sophistication won him no end of fans and no small level of controversy. What we also learn in Brigitte Berman’s thoughtful biography is that Hefner was incredibly dedicated to social causes which he promoted on many levels, encouraging increases in education regarding contraception and abortion, as well as being a firm proponent of the Civil Rights movement and the Equal Rights Amendment. This documentary features loads and loads of magnificent footage, not just of the gorgeous girls whose flesh was peddled between the pages of this extremely well-known publication, but also behind the scenes working at the magazine and, most entertainingly, clips from Hefner’s original television program which broke ground by featuring an easy mix of performers from all races gathered in his “penthouse”, casually singing and playing for nationwide audiences (Hefner paid for the series himself and was never stopped by the fact that southern affiliates never picked it up). Berman includes interviews with friends and colleagues such as , , , ,  and , but then in an effort to appear balanced also makes sure to spotlight dissenting voices, namely  representing the Christian opposition and  for the feminist viewpoint. Even fans of Hef’s have to give Brownmiller points for such comments as when she told the media mogul, on a 70s talk show, that if he believes he is not objectifying women then he should be as willing as his employees are to go out in public with a bunny tail attached to his rear end.   Berman never really lets the criticism have its fair share of screen time and the few clips of voices like Brownmiller’s feel like pandering to the Nay side rather than a deeply critical look at a man who has captured many people’s imaginations and at the same time infuriated many others. The Dorothy Stratton scandal, that of the beautiful playmate who was tragically murdered by her husband after achieving national fame, is thrown in far too casually in the film’s last third despite being, in my mind, a major proponent for the shift in attitude of Playboy culture from being a mark of naughty sophistication to a bastion of trailer-park fantasy, and comes in far too late in the film. Berman can’t be faulted for wanting to include so much information, as there is such a wealth of material to choose from, but the film is without a doubt at least twenty minutes too long and loses the grasp on the viewer that it so very strongly holds for most of its running time. Hefner himself is very generous with his onscreen time and is a delight to hear speak (especially since he reveals only surface information about himself), while the interview subjects range from wonderful delights (, still looking terrific) to pointless windbags (—I hope someday I get to be in a movie about somebody simply because I used to hang out at their house).

Canada, 2009

Directed by

Screenplay by Brigitte Berman

Cinematography by

Produced by Brigitte Berman, ,

Music by

Film Editing by Brigitte Berman,

Film Festivals:  TIFF 2009

Cast Tags:  , , , , ,, ,, , , , ,, , ,, , , ,, , , , ,, , ,, , ,, ,, , , ,, , ,, ,, ,, , ,,, , , , , ,, , , , ,, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,, , ,, , , ,, , , ,,



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