Movie Review: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Movie Review: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Summary: A documentary on the life of the legendary Hugh Hefner and the history of the Playboy Empire.

Published July 30, 2010

Summary : A documentary on the life of the legendary Hugh Hefner and the history of the Playboy Empire.

Review : It's easy to minimize Hugh Hefner to a softcore pornography king who enjoys the company of multiple blonds at one time. However, after watching Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel , a new history has been told.  Beyond the sex, Hefner battled for freedom of speech, fought against racism, challenged outdated sex laws and constantly championed equal rights. Hef just managed to have a good time in between the activism -- and someone enjoying life while simultaneously changing the world is a true threat to American standards.  The word "hater" wasn't a part of the American lexicon then, but Mr. Playboy had haters from Ronald Reagan to the FBI.

Directed by Brigitte Berman, the doc details Hefner's life from a young man with a dream to a pajama-wearing kat daddy.  There are so many complexities and at times contradictions that Berman managed to capture.   By using sharp visuals and incredible archival footage, we learn Hefner was wrongfully jailed, protested against the war, hunted down by the FBI, deeply criticized by feminist groups, suffered a stroke, married and divorced, and a former employee committed suicide.

The flick includes interviews with a diverse group such as the legendary Dick Gregory , Bill Maher and Reverend Jesse Jackson -- yes, Rev. Jesse is cool with Hef. You’d be surprised to know that one of Dr. King's final writings was in Playboy Magazine .

During the turbulent '60s, Hef featured Black performers and interracial bands on his talk show, which caused the show to not air in the South. Playboy 's first print interview was conducted by the author of Roots , Alex Haley , where he interviewed Miles Davis -- the publication of Roots grew out of Haley's connection with Playboy .  In addition, the doc has a wonderful interview and performance from the legendary Sammy Davis, Jr. -- Hef had some soul before it was popular.

While the documentary is fascinating, the audience sees more of a political side of Hef versus salacious sexuality. For some, this will be slightly disappointing; but there are tons of outlets that have already told that story. This version is fresh, a bit more intellectual and a side we have rarely seen.  That said, there is a lack of emotional punch.  The story unfolds extremely restrained, being more of a history lesson; an emotional climax is always helpful in documentaries on an icon's life.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel goes above the groin, chronicling watershed moments in American history while telling the story of one of the greatest American corporations ever created – Playboy.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel opens in select cities today.

Written by Clay Cane


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