An revealing look at the outspoken, flamboyant founder of the Playboy empire. With humor and insight, the film captures Hefner's fierce battles with the government, the religious right and militant feminists. Rare footage and compelling interviews with a remarkable who's who of 20th Century American pop culture, present a brilliant and entertaining snapshot of the life of an extraordinary man and the controversies that surrounded him. Written by
We are all very familiar with the iconic brand that is the Playboy bunny. We are also familiar with the image of Hugh Hefner: An ancient Lothario; mannequin for a smoking jacket; pipe, and gallons of young, beautiful women, adoring him, as in the "reality-TV" horror that was The Girls of the Playboy Mansion. Some are unaware of his many political activities that he was involved in, in each decade since the 1950's. His involvement with the breaking of many socially draconian taboos and laws of sex, sexuality and the representation of these: Freedom of press and speech: The civil-rights movement: The anti Vietnam protesters of the late 1960's and early '70's: The Reaganomics of the 1980's and it's religious-extremist attitude towards "pornography". Hefner, according to this film, was active (if not systematic) in all of these 'historical' events that have instigated social change, not only in America, but throughout the western world. Perhaps this statement is too strong.
This documentary, directed by Brigitte Berman (who had previously made the Academy award winning film, Artie Shaw: Time is All You've Got (1986)), tells the story of Hefner, not just as a magazine producer, but as a political activist. beginning with the publication of the magazine Playboy, the film charts Hefner's rise as an advocate of literature and for political polemics, published in a monthly men's paper that also riskily showed the naked female forms. Alongside the playmate-of-the-month's and centre-fold's there contained abridged, monthly sections of books by such writers as Ray Bradbury and Ian Fleming; interviews with political activists/thinkers such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X. The magazine was breaking taboos set by a repressive society. Historically Hefner was also embroiled in the HUAC (House UnAmerican Activities Committee), who's McCarthyism was seen as a dent in America's freedom and an infringement of the first amendment. We also discover that Hefner supported Lenny Bruce (at a time when it was seen as career suicide to do so) through his trials for obscenities on stage.
Whilst the film focuses on these more flattering aspects of Hefner's life, it does skirt around many issues thrown at him by groups against his "objectification" of women. It does not fully explore the feminist and journalistic backlash that was aimed at him. I felt the film would benefit by exploring these issues, and present a less biased (less Hefner-centric) argument in the film, and it's issues of (particularly) sex and sexuality and all its representations. The film uses some very bizarre talking heads: Gene Simmons (well I guess he's probably met him, and probably reads Playboy) and George Lucas?? Hang on a minute! (Lucas oozes about as much sexuality as a brick oozes Virgina's). Aside from a few under-explored avenues of Hefner's career, this is still a flawed but entertaining documentary. We are shown that Hefner is not myopic in his outlook. He has been politically active and has given to many worthy causes. But, as he now is (seen by millions on reality TV), we just see an old man still unable to be monogamous, and surrounding himself in fresh, young girls, which are pushed aside annually for new meat. (Am I criticising that? Pfft!).
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