It’s easy enough to dismiss Hugh Hefner as merely a pornographer, but what most people don’t know about the visionary behind Playboy magazine is that he’s an undercover activist who’s fought hard for civil rights (his work earned him an NAACP award), gay rights, against censorship and laws prohibiting abortion and birth control. He’s even helped more than one wrongly imprisoned person get their death sentence reversed.
So why don’t we know this? Because unlike most celebrities, Hugh Hefner doesn’t pose with starving babies in People Magazine as part of a PR campaign; instead he chooses to quietly live life according to what he calls the “Playboy Philosophy” and for the first time, Oscar-winning Canadian director Brigitte Berman delves into what that means (it’s not what you probably think it means).
This doc, which made its debut at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (Hefner and his notorious blonde girlfriends were in attendance and Hef answered questions from the audience after the screening), follows the personal and professional life of the man behind Playboy Magazine, from his childhood spent making comics and 16mm films through his years of creating his infamous image to his present existence as a semi-retired octogenarian whose creative input is still a key ingredient to the Playboy franchise.
Berman has created a film that is definitely engaging and packed with info that even a Hefner fan probably isn’t aware of, but it comes across as too much of a love letter and not enough a balanced portrayal of a man that makes his money selling a nudie mag. According to Berman, the assembly cut of the film was 7 hours long so a lot had to be cut out to get the film down to its 2 hour and 15 minute running time. As a result we only get a glimpse of the feminists who have spent their careers rallying against magazines like Playboy and of staff members who only briefly mention that Hefner was a tough man to work for. Still, it’s a doc worth seeing if only to challenge your pre-conceived notions about the man behind the Playboy Empire.
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel opens in Toronto today and is playing at the Alliance Atlantis Cumberland 4 Cinemas (159 Cumberland Ave). For showtimes, check here.
Meet the Director!
If you’re planning on attending the evening screenings on August 6th, you’ll get a chance to meet the film’s Academy Award-winning filmmaker Brigitte Berman! She’ll be at the 7:15pm screening for a Q&A with the audience and will return to intro the film at the 10:30pm screening.
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