Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Teeming with commentary from well-known celebrities, this exceptional doc about Hugh Hefner and the ascent of liberalism celebrates both the iconic Playboy founder and the receding of taboos and prejudice over the past half-century.

July 20, 2010

-By Doris Toumarkine


filmjournal/photos/stylus/145701-Hefner_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

What fascinates most in Oscar-winning filmmaker Brigitte Berman’s slick and sublime Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is the reminder (or news to many) that the publishing magnate and lifestyle revolutionary was every bit as much activist, rebel and reformer as he was playboy. This lively documentary, which conveys the magnitude of change Hefner inspired, will rivet viewers of every age and persuasion who value human rights, respect for human nature, and the unexpected from human genius.

As an important and effective liberal progressive, Hefner abetted the civil-rights movement and helped emancipate women from their circumscribed roles—so graphically etched in ’50s/early-’60s pop culture—of housebound wife and mother. A revolutionary in the realm of ideas, he fought the right-wing forces of anti-Communism and fundamentalist Christianity, intolerance, sexual repression and hypocrisy. And he had a very good time doing it.

Sure, women’s-lib leaders like Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller weren’t Hef fans, as the doc makes clear. The Playboy bunnies (Steinem went underground as one of them), whether in print or on-site at the mansion, might have been victims of their illusions but certainly not of any kind of coercion or sex trafficking.

Media titan Hefner, who shed some very thick Puritanical skin as an Illinois WASP, helped many in his inner and outer circles and in the country at large. These circles included some of the country’s smartest celebs, artists and activists who, thanks to Hefner, helped forge a more tolerant, honest, less hypocritical world.

The film follows Hefner from his early years as working drone to his break from conventional life (and marriage) and founding in 1953 of Playboy magazine, which he grew into a global empire and force for change. The magazine, propelled by the infamous Marilyn Monroe cover, begot star-packed, Hef-hosted TV variety shows (“Playboy After Dark,” “Playboy’s Penthouse”), the wildly popular Playboy clubs and mansions and huge Playboy Foundation. As the franchise exploded, the magazine grew in importance and seriousness; bunnies shared pages with in-depth interviews with some of the most important thinkers and shakers of the past 40 years.

While his image is imbedded in collective minds as a pipe-smoking, decadent, robe-donning swinging Don Juan in heaven, Hefner is on the battlefront, fighting for civil and gay rights, First Amendment rights and for a sexual revolution that will reflect what men and women of all orientations need and deserve.

His enemies are the religious and political right, the latter embodied by Nixon, Reagan and J. Edgar Hoover. Also across the barricades are religious fundamentalists, anti-porn activists and militant feminists who deem Playboy bunnies as traitors and symbols of an exploitative Playboy philosophy.

An endless stream of famous personalities pass through this doc, many as talking heads, others by way of an abundance of archival footage from Hefner’s old TV shows, Dick Cavett and William F. Buckley interviews, etc. To cite just a few, the film is a rich collection of Hefner allies (Mike Wallace is a convert), rock and jazz greats (Tony Bennett, Buddy Rich, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gene Simmons), anti-war and civil-rights activists (Joan Baez, Jim Brown, Rev. Jesse Jackson), anti-Playboy combatants (Pat Boone, Charles Keating, Steinem and Brownmiller), and intellectual-provocateurs (Buckley, Gore Vidal). And then there are the boys who just wanna have fun (James Caan, David Steinberg, Tony Curtis). Hefner’s mansion gave them just that.

Hefner, whose magazine and wealth fought the bullies, began by betting big on male lust and used the windfall to back the big causes. Berman’s film, a picture of effective, unexpected liberal activism, perhaps inadvertently asks where would this country be now without Hugh Hefner and begs the question: Where can we get another one?


Film Review: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Teeming with commentary from well-known celebrities, this exceptional doc about Hugh Hefner and the ascent of liberalism celebrates both the iconic Playboy founder and the receding of taboos and prejudice over the past half-century.

July 20, 2010

-By Doris Toumarkine


filmjournal/photos/stylus/145701-Hefner_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

What fascinates most in Oscar-winning filmmaker Brigitte Berman’s slick and sublime Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is the reminder (or news to many) that the publishing magnate and lifestyle revolutionary was every bit as much activist, rebel and reformer as he was playboy. This lively documentary, which conveys the magnitude of change Hefner inspired, will rivet viewers of every age and persuasion who value human rights, respect for human nature, and the unexpected from human genius.

As an important and effective liberal progressive, Hefner abetted the civil-rights movement and helped emancipate women from their circumscribed roles—so graphically etched in ’50s/early-’60s pop culture—of housebound wife and mother. A revolutionary in the realm of ideas, he fought the right-wing forces of anti-Communism and fundamentalist Christianity, intolerance, sexual repression and hypocrisy. And he had a very good time doing it.

Sure, women’s-lib leaders like Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller weren’t Hef fans, as the doc makes clear. The Playboy bunnies (Steinem went underground as one of them), whether in print or on-site at the mansion, might have been victims of their illusions but certainly not of any kind of coercion or sex trafficking.

Media titan Hefner, who shed some very thick Puritanical skin as an Illinois WASP, helped many in his inner and outer circles and in the country at large. These circles included some of the country’s smartest celebs, artists and activists who, thanks to Hefner, helped forge a more tolerant, honest, less hypocritical world.

The film follows Hefner from his early years as working drone to his break from conventional life (and marriage) and founding in 1953 of Playboy magazine, which he grew into a global empire and force for change. The magazine, propelled by the infamous Marilyn Monroe cover, begot star-packed, Hef-hosted TV variety shows (“Playboy After Dark,” “Playboy’s Penthouse”), the wildly popular Playboy clubs and mansions and huge Playboy Foundation. As the franchise exploded, the magazine grew in importance and seriousness; bunnies shared pages with in-depth interviews with some of the most important thinkers and shakers of the past 40 years.

While his image is imbedded in collective minds as a pipe-smoking, decadent, robe-donning swinging Don Juan in heaven, Hefner is on the battlefront, fighting for civil and gay rights, First Amendment rights and for a sexual revolution that will reflect what men and women of all orientations need and deserve.

His enemies are the religious and political right, the latter embodied by Nixon, Reagan and J. Edgar Hoover. Also across the barricades are religious fundamentalists, anti-porn activists and militant feminists who deem Playboy bunnies as traitors and symbols of an exploitative Playboy philosophy.

An endless stream of famous personalities pass through this doc, many as talking heads, others by way of an abundance of archival footage from Hefner’s old TV shows, Dick Cavett and William F. Buckley interviews, etc. To cite just a few, the film is a rich collection of Hefner allies (Mike Wallace is a convert), rock and jazz greats (Tony Bennett, Buddy Rich, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gene Simmons), anti-war and civil-rights activists (Joan Baez, Jim Brown, Rev. Jesse Jackson), anti-Playboy combatants (Pat Boone, Charles Keating, Steinem and Brownmiller), and intellectual-provocateurs (Buckley, Gore Vidal). And then there are the boys who just wanna have fun (James Caan, David Steinberg, Tony Curtis). Hefner’s mansion gave them just that.

Hefner, whose magazine and wealth fought the bullies, began by betting big on male lust and used the windfall to back the big causes. Berman’s film, a picture of effective, unexpected liberal activism, perhaps inadvertently asks where would this country be now without Hugh Hefner and begs the question: Where can we get another one?
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Viktor
Film Review: Viktor

Morose thriller set and shot in Moscow, which follows French ex-convict Viktor (Gerard Depardieu, who recently renounced his French citizenship and became Russian) as he tries to find out why his son was murdered.


  More »

E-Team
Film Review: E-Team

Four international human rights investigators descend on political atrocities to determine accountability. More »

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here