Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

| December 14, 2010

I like a smart, well-written documentary put together by a person who did their homework. It usually puts the subject in a different light and reveals some unknown truths. ‘Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel’, written and directed by Brigitte Berman, is a biographical tour de force about a man who changed the way America looked at issues like sexuality, freedom of press and race after releasing his magazine, ‘Playboy’, which debuted in December of 1953. Featuring photos of nude women, Hefner’s magazine also includes journalism, fictional shorts, artist interviews and racy cartoons. However, I do feel kind of silly explaining to you all who Hugh Hefner is and what his magazine is all about, since they are so well known. Therefore, I’ll take you right to the highlights of the film.
Most of the documentary features interviews with Mr. Hefner, former Playmates and employees, activists, comedians, musicians and other artists. Some of these well known celebrities include: Gene Simmons, Tony Bennet, George Lucas, Jenny McCarthy, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jim Brown, Shannon Tweed, James Caan, Tony Curtis and Joan Baez.
The film kicks off with a look into Hugh’s past and upbringing in the city of Chicago and then, how he came up with the ideas for Playboy and the plan to put it all together. The documentary pretty much then follows a chronological time line from the magazine’s origins to the Playboy empire of today.
There is one bit of information I’d like to get out of the way: the documentary’s focus isn’t all about being sleazy and showing a lot of skin. Sure it’s rated R, but after all, it’s about Hugh Hefner and the history of Playboy, so there’s going to be a little bit of nudity. I guess if you have a problem with the nature of these things, this film isn’t for you, even though I suggest you give it a chance.
What I liked the most about this film is how the film maker takes you into Hugh’s inner world regarding his positive views on race relations, equality for women, and sexual culture in America. This guy gave African American comics and musicians a chance to perform on his t.v. program when the rest of the country still had reservations about these things. Not only did he let them perform, he treated them as guests who had every bit of access to his world that his white guests did.
Hefner also put together legal teams for people wrongly imprisoned for writings the U.S. government deemed as communist, southern sodomy laws in the bible belt and minor possession of harmless drugs such as marijuana. I really got an appreciation for Hugh’s character and how he gave writers a platform for controversial subject matter through his magazine. Instead of putting out countless issues of cover to cover nude pictorials, this publishing pioneer delved into politics, culture, humor, turned people on to great music such as jazz and always threw in at least one great celebrity interview every month.
This documentary also includes a lot of rare footage from Hugh Hefner’s publishing desk to performances from Playboy jazz festivals to parties inside the mansion. With a running time of just over two hours, you definitely get a history lesson about a regular guy that changed things big time in this country.
I highly recommend this film to everybody- after all, Hefner was important enough in bringing the issue of race to the forefront of American culture that the NAACP gave him a special award. Not many ‘do-gooder’ politicians or members of the religious right can say that.
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel
Written and Directed by Brigitte Berman for Metaphor Films
124 Minutes
Rated R

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