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Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

The word "saint" isn't included in the title of the documentary, but it might as well be.

With: Hugh Hefner, Joan Baez, Shannon Tweed, Dick Gregory, Tony Curtis, Tony Bennett, Jesse Jackson, Ruth Westheimer, James Caan, Pat Boone, Pete Seeger, Jenny McCarthy, Jim Brown, Susan Brownmiller, Gene Simmons, Mike Wallace, George Lucas.

The word “saint” isn’t included in the title of “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel,” but it might as well be. At 135 minutes, this fawning docu goes to lengths to portray the octogenarian Playboy magazine founder as among the greatest figures of 20th-century American popular culture, while only cursorily acknowledging his status as a pioneering softcore pornographer. By the time this oddly chaste, celebrity-studded film gets around to mentioning Hef’s abiding love of animals, even a Bunny will want to hop elsewhere. The Playboy Channel would seem the ideal venue for a pic more flattering than the subject himself could have produced.

Gene Simmons of rock-band Kiss begins the film by saying he doesn’t know anyone who wouldn’t give one of two distinctly male body parts to be Hefner, and director Brigitte Berman doesn’t appear to disagree that the multimillionaire ladies’ man is eminently enviable. Tracing Hef’s early life from his Depression-era roots through his psych major in college and visionary investment in an upscale men’s mag, Berman fixates on her subject’s liberal causes and resists the temptation to have naughty fun with the narrative. Tech credits, too, are tasteful.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel


Production: A Metaphor Films presentation of a Victor Solnicki, Bridge Film, White Pine Pictures production, in association with Telefilm Canada, the Rogers Group of Funds, the Movie Network, Movie Central, Ontario Media Development Corp., the Canadian Television Fund, Rogers Broadcasting. (International sales: Aver Media, Toronto.) Produced by Victor Solnicki, Brigitte Berman, Peter Raymont. Directed, written by Brigitte Berman.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV), John Westheuser; editor, Berman, Richard Vandentillaart; music, James Mark Stewart. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 11, 2009. Running time: 135 MIN.

With: With: Hugh Hefner, Joan Baez, Shannon Tweed, Dick Gregory, Tony Curtis, Tony Bennett, Jesse Jackson, Ruth Westheimer, James Caan, Pat Boone, Pete Seeger, Jenny McCarthy, Jim Brown, Susan Brownmiller, Gene Simmons, Mike Wallace, George Lucas.

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