Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (2009) Poster

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Admiring tribute to Hugh Hefner
FilmRap8 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Filmmaker Brigitte Berman won an Oscar for her documentary film about iconic musician Artie Shaw. Hugh Hefner is a great jazz aficionado and founded the acclaimed Playboy Jazz Festival which is how they had occasion to meet and get to know each other. Berman decided that she wanted to make a documentary about Hefner but one, which shows the largely unknown side of the man who in most people's minds represents the Playboy lifestyle of beautiful women and lots of sex. Hefner liked the idea of such a film and gave Berman free access to his vast archives as well as participating in extensive interviews with her. Friends of Hefner such as James Caan, Tony Bennett, Dick Cavett, Joan Baez, Jessie Jackson, Jim Brown, Bill Maher, Dick Gregory and others also gave very fascinating interviews. What emerged in the two hour and 4 minute film was a picture of a hardworking man who was determined to be a success. He loved women (many women) and did not believe that he was demeaning them by making them sexual objects. More to the point of the documentary, he had a sense of fairness and acceptance that was completely color blind at a time when much of the country and certainly the entertainment industry was not. He did not allow discrimination towards blacks to occur in his Playboy Clubs and commonly showcased black entertainers on his after hours TV shows. Interviews with Jessie Jackson, Jim Brown and Dick Gregory were extremely clear on this point. Hefner also did not hesitate to have writers, who were blacklisted as communists or communist sympathizers by the nefarious Senator Joseph McCarthy, to continue to write for Playboy magazine under their own name, which was unheard of at that time.He also had blacklisted performers on this television show. This film is not only enlightening about these contributions of this man but it also is quite entertaining as it includes wonderful clips of Sammy Davis Junior performing as well as ad-libbing on the Hefner TV show. There was a young Tony Bennett performing in his relaxed style. We saw a beautiful Joan Baez singing and youthful Pete Seeger doing his thing with some injected clips of the craggy older Seeger reflecting on the significance of Hefner's support of him and his causes. James Mark Stewart provided an excellent original score for the background of most of the movie There are a few counterpoints to the Hefner's views about sexuality and the Playboy life style which are periodically presented in the film by such people as Susan Brownmiller, Pat Boone and others. They are shown as weak rebuttals, at times almost humorous. It is clear that this film is an admiring tribute to Hefner now in his 80s. Ms. Berman director, producer, writer and editor told us that Hefner was extremely pleased and touched after seeing the documentary. The filmmaker said that she wanted to show him objectively as he really was which led me to ask her if there was anything in the film that Hefner didn't like? She said no. The film comes to an end with Hefner being true to his philosophy and reinventing himself after two marriages by now having seven intimate girlfriends which he then cuts down three. There is a very revealing statement by this older guy reflecting on his life. He indicated that he understands that his outgoing life style of loving and enjoying many women has to do with the fact that his parents were very cold and rejecting. In fact as a child he says he was never hugged. Even though he has had a very successful life, it is sad to see the lingering effects of what has been missing from his childhood.
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The Other Side of Hef
Lilcount19 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I attended the New York premiere of this film at MOMA on Mar. 18, 2010. In attendance were Dick Cavett, Tony Bennett, Barry Melton of Cowboy Joe and the Fish, Christie Hefner among other interviewees who appeared in the film. Sadly, as one of the curators remarked, the "comps" outnumbered the general public.

Director Brigitte Berman has directed over 100 short docs for Canadian TV. She met Hefner while researching her Bix Beiderbecke biopic. Hefner, she realized, was more than a mere pornographer. The Playboy founder agreed at once to give Berman unfettered access to his archives and complete artistic control of the project.

A remarkable aspect of this film is the showcasing of the outstanding entertainers Hefner featured on his two syndicated TV shows. Pete Seeger and Lenny Bruce made rare TV appearances for Hefner in the late '50's while they were still blacklisted by the 3 major networks. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory got his start working in the Playboy key clubs. And Hefner was among the first producers to show integrated musical acts on TV.

To her credit, Berman gives time to critics of Hefner's "Playboy Philosophy." Christian devotee Pat Boone and feminist icon Susan Brownmiller get to express their misgivings with Hefner. (Onetime Playboy bunny and feminist Gloria Steinem declined to be interviewed.) It's clear, however, whose side Ms. Berman is on.

Unfortunately, not enough time is devoted to the tragic death of Dorothy Stratten. After the screening, I asked the director if she had approached Stratten's intended, Peter Bogdanovich. Ms. Berman said she had not. She explained that so much had already been aired publicly about this sad affair that it would take off and derail her film if she pursued it in depth. Still, to include it solely to "explain" Hefner's subsequent mild stroke seems inadequate.

Berman said her first rough cut was over seven hours and she worked hard to trim it to about two. In my view the film is too short. There was nary a mention of Hefner's career as a film producer. (Playboy Enterprises produced Roman Polanski's "Macbeth", one of the finest Shakespearean films ever made.)But she hinted that the DVD would have plenty of extras to satisfy completists like me.

This film will have a limited US release in NY and LA this summer and undoubtedly end up on PBS and other networks. Hugh Hefner, like him or not, is a major figure in 20th Century American cultural history, and this film is not to be missed. Highly recommended.
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Who I am is an open book with illustrations.
Love it or hate it, Playboy magazine changed the way people in America viewed sex and sexuality. Certainly, it objectified women, but they were not alone in doing so. Advertising has done an excellent job of that through the years.

But, Hugh Hefner was a lot more than a magazine. He was an entertainer that did more to promote jazz than anyone I know. He was also a man who did more to promote equality among the races that most anyone in America.

Entertainment was prime with Hefner, but his social activism against those, like Gene McCarthy and Charles Keating, who would impose their particular brand of morality on others.

He was at the forefront of women's issues, racial issues, free speech issues and more.

One of a kind and a fascinating man to listen to.
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A beautifully made and entertaining documentary about a truly revolutionary man
dom_s15 August 2010
I had the chance to assist a projection in Boston where Director Brigitte Berman was present, coming from Europe and being in my late 20ies there was not much I knew about Hefner besides it's contribution to the sexual revolution of America and the rest of the world.

As a consequence, the movie was full of revelations for me, jumping from one fight for freedom from Hefner and his team to another. The director beautifully manages to catch the mindset of Playboy's manager soul behind the bunnies, at a much deeper level.

What especially stroke me was the ability of the director to constantly depict the paradoxes between Hefners' primal/liberal way of thinking about sexuality and it's philosophical fights for everyone's freedom and culture. You get to discover a man pursuing his dreams through is entire life and get to discover a revolutionary mindset where pleasure and great achievements are not necessarily unrelated.

Hefner is not yet in any of our (at least Europeans) history books but like him or not, he deserves to be and I would advise anybody, who like me, is missing that piece of history to run see this documentary.
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Excellent and revealing doc of a legendary and cultural icon who spoke for individual freedom so one had the right for pleasure and expressionism
blanbrn10 February 2011
If you've read "Playboy" you know that it's more than a T@A magazine clearly after reading one can say it's thought provoking and it makes one think. As many articles are one's fighting for freedom and expressing opinions of social, economic, political, and values of advice. Really the magazine educates you and in the meantime your always treated to photos of beautiful ladies. And in a way this doc is a treat as it tells the history of the Playboy empire and showcases the founder the interesting and culture crusader activist Hugh Hefner.

From rare vintage footage of Hef's early days growing up director Brigitte Berman shows how eager and hard working that Hef was to express his viewpoints from an early age. From then after a stint at Esquire he with the help of some family money put up his own new magazine titled "Playboy". At first in the mid 50's a very controversial time Hefner had to blend the magazine with art, stories of fiction and advice to take away from the nude photos of beautiful women.

Yet thru out this doc in interviews with Hef and many others you hear how it wasn't an exploitation of women, but more of an experience of freedom and sexual rights for both men and women. And of course all of that came under attack from the religious right and extreme feminists. Even thru it all Hefner has been under investigation from the federal government yet Hef always fought on winning his court cases proving his photos and literature was often satire.

Hef proved as Playboy expanded his launch was super by putting in clubs even having his own jet as the mansion moved from the Windy city to Hollywood, California fun in the sun! Always surrounded with beautiful playmates, and fun and games plus movie night(Hef's a film buff) and lingerie parties! In the meantime on his show "Playboy After Dark" Hefner fought for human rights taking on racial issues and the right to freedom of speech as Hef and his performers always took a provocative stance. And Hugh was always the man very flamboyant by dressing in his signature silk robes.

Real treats on this doc are the clips and interviews from his friends, and well known people like Tony Bennet, Pat Boone, Dick Cavett, George Lucas, Jesse Jackson, Bill Maher, Jenny McCarthy, Gene Simmons, and Shannon Tweed. All spoke highly of their friend. Really this doc is revealing it traces the whole history of the Playboy empire.

Clearly Hugh Hefner was an extraordinary pop culture icon who spoke for freedom especially he encouraged individuals to feel good about sexual pleasure and to challenge authority and don't be a yes man always question things and think as life is often thoughtful and provocative not only under the sheets, but the world around is interesting too with it's social, political, and economic climates. Hugh Hefner will always be a living legend that changed life, culture, and a person's way of thought as one no longer had to feel dirty about sex, as "Playboy" made it an enjoyable pleasure of individualism and a great expression of feel good freedom. This doc really stands up to it's name Hugh Hefner certainly is a true rebel and activist.
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The Money, The Power & The Sex Of Playboy Magazine
strong-122-4788859 April 2015
"To objectify women, or to not objectify women" - Is this the question one asks of Mr. Hugh Hefner, the ultimate, most-admired playboy of them all?

For the most part - This well-researched, bio-documentary, chronicling the mega-success of Hugh Hefner (and his naughty-but-nice men's magazine, Playboy), was a very intriguing look at an iconic pop culture figure who has certainly had his fair share of controversial highs and lows.

The first hour of this documentary was, of course, the best. It diligently covered the first 20 years (1953-1973) of astounding success for Playboy magazine - A truly phenomenal magazine that was specifically geared to the hip, swinging bachelor (who apparently lurks inside most men).

Competently directed by Canadian film-maker, Brigitte Berman, this enjoyable documentary not only featured lots of excellent vintage footage, and interviews with scores of celebrities, but Hugh Hefner, himself (82 at the time and clearly on his best behaviour) offered the viewer the "real" story behind the money, the power, and, yes, the sex of Playboy magazine.
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Interesting, very interesting
RNMorton27 August 2013
I admit I only watched bits and pieces of this, well, whatever it is - documentary? Tribute? Position paper? The problem I have with these things - much like PBS' anti-creationist propaganda or Bill Maher - is that they pick some of the lamest opponents to make it look like they are presenting a complete picture, when really they're just straw dogs. And I don't want to be completely hypocritical, I looked at my share of Playboys in my time. I agree with some of Hef's beliefs and disagree with others. So the question is, is Hef a modern martyr for his beliefs or does he just pose as the coolest guy in town? Sorry, but I've always seen Hef as an opportunist who likes women a lot and has interesting views on behavior with women, sort of the ultimate urban alpha male who spends at least part of his time justifying his inappropriate lifestyle. This movie didn't change my mind. I really wasn't offended, I just hope people don't watch this and think Hef is the Pope. He's not, but he sure is one rich guy with a cool image and a lot of girls.
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Flatters its subject
tomgillespie200230 June 2011
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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human212 December 2018
For one thing I think this Hugh Hefner documentary is quite complete regarding the content, after watching it I think I learned all there is to know about Hugh Hefner; Hefner really open up when he's interviewed, there's plenty of archive footage, newspapers clippings and Playboy Magazine excerpts in it that are shown to shown to the viewers... But I can't get over this feeling that more could have been done, in my opinion this documentary is cold, there's absolutely no emotions in it... When we compare it to a masterpiece like Hollywood producer Robert Evans 2002 biography "The Kid Stays In The Picture" we can understand that a lot more could have been done to make this a real powerful work of art... In the Robert Evans documentary there's plenty of beautiful powerful music, the pictures are vivid and look as if they were created by a real painter it's a real eye candy and there's a narrator who guide us through the whole picture, all this help make that an unforgettable documentary... In this Hugh Hefner dodumentary there's plenty of peoples interviewed but there's nothing to glue them together, the viewer is left assembling the pieces of the puzzle bhy himself which demand a lot of concentration, I think doing it that way cases the viewer to make extra efforts to understand the story... If a narrator would have presented us on a gold platter what is important to remember in the story like they did in the Robert Evans biography watching would have been somewhat less difficult... I may seem picky but as goes the saying "the devil is in the details"... Also they presented us a lot of interviews bits with various peoples but no one was really important, who cares about what Pat Boones or Gene Simmons have to say about Playboy, in my opinion Hugh Hefner would have deserved interviews with former presidents, Clint Eastwood and David Letterman for example... Overall I would say this Hugh Hefner documentary is well researched and worth watching, but it's a shame nobody did the real official Playboy worthy documentary that Hugh Hefner deserved before he dies... This is more a cheap made-for-TV movie rather than a professional Michael Moore-like feature...
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One-side Gushing Sycophant
SnoopyStyle20 September 2013
This is a gushing unbalanced Canadian documentary praising the Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

It hits on all the highlights from the beginning. It's mostly about Playboy and its influence.

There are a lot of famous talking heads, some of which are kind of surprising.

But the rebuttal talking heads are really limited and sticking to the well worn arguments.

It covers a lot of history. But it's one sided. Maybe the filmmaker should ask for a second opinion.
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A Great Documentary for Yokels
Henry_Framus_Valentine10 September 2018
Fifty years ago or so, I read a letter-to-the-editor in Playboy that went something like this: "Playboy is a magazine for yokels." Even though I was a subscriber, I sort of knew what the correspondent meant. There was something cheesy about the hip bachelor image that Hefner lived and espoused. Despite the great stories by Jean Shepard, the beautiful Vargas paintings, and the lovely naked girls-next-door, it struck me that the Playboy Philosophy was just too damned cornball in the end. The nighttime TV series "Playboy Penthouse" which aired around the same time was equally corny, what with the thirty-plus aged men in their Nehru jackets and medallions pretending to enjoy watching Spanky and Our Gang lip-synching a pop tune.

This puff-piece of a documentary is just as cheesy, just as corny, as the magazine was back then and would continue to be as the years progressed. "Entertainment for Yokels" should be the motto of the magazine and it sure would apply to this silly (albeit entertaining) film.
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