Monday, September 14, 2009

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Showing at the Toronto International Film Festival: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, directed by Brigitte Berman

Synopsis from the TIFF website:

Undoubtedly one of the most influential media figures of the twentieth century, Hugh Hefner is most famous as the pipe-smoking mogul who promoted a sexual lifestyle while creating a publishing empire. In Academy Award-winner Brigitte Berman's expansive documentary, we gain valuable insight into Hefner's amazing work and storied personal life.

Equally as impressive as Playboy magazine's ultimate success is the fact that it came from very humble beginnings. Hefner borrowed money and on a shoestring began publishing his magazine – one committed to sexy photos of women and strong, trail-blazing writing. Hefner had the smarts to purchase a nude spread of Marilyn Monroe, whose images would grace the magazine's first edition. There were many more landmarks to come for the publication, which embodied the then-nascent sexual liberation movement carried along by the baby boomer generation.

The tales of women, cocktails and the mansion are famous, and will be familiar to most, but what's revealing here is Hefner's place in the African-American civil rights movement. When some Playboy clubs in the southern United States would not let black patrons in, Hefner used his own money to buy the franchises back from their owners, ensuring that institutions bearing the Playboy name would be racially integrated. The main criticism of the Playboy brand and accompanying philosophy is that it has been degrading and damaging to women, but Berman also shows Hefner's support for feminist causes – for example, he sent legal teams to fight for abortion rights cases, which paved the road for groundbreaking Supreme Court decisions such as Roe v. Wade.

What emerges is the profile of a man far more complex than the smut peddler many of his detractors purport him to be. Berman has also dug up some priceless clips from Hefner's own syndicated television series, in which he would interview celebrities from his home while wearing a smoking jacket. Her film celebrates the hedonist, but also clearly illustrates that there's far more to this man than just a good time.

Footage of Hef from the TIFF:

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