Hugh Hefner Movie Review: The Porn Peddler And Me

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I confess that I once had a relationship of my own with Hugh Hefner. And no, it had nothing to do with Playboy bunnies, God no. Some years ago, I wrote movie reviews for an up and coming website on the raunchy side. Why they would want feminist leaning analysis surrounded by surgically enhanced sex objects is anybody’s guess, maybe for laughs or a pretense of critical balance.

In any case, Playboy Enterprises online would soon take notice of this apparently irritating interloper on the rise, and bought the site for a substantial amount of money, while allowing it to continue. That is, for about six months, during which time I endured the peculiar stares of bank tellers, while cashing in those checks engraved with the telltale bunny logos. And like any of those disposable Playboy bunnies that Hugh Hefner samples and discards like underwear, I was soon out of that particular job. At which time it became obvious that the website had been purchased not as an impressive acquisition, but simply to put a rival out of business.

Does a similar cynical method of operation apply to Hefner’s conspicuous consumption of women? Not if the vanity documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist And Rebel is any indication, a display of bloated puffery that easily rivals in its grotesque excess the most expansive synthetic chest of any of the fawning babes perpetually surrounding the leering old goat.

And did I feel as exploited and dismissed as any run of the mill resentful Playboy bunny? It would be hard to tell, since dissenting hotties, unlike say Hefner’s proclaimed rebel image of himself, are definitely not part of this unabashedly self-promoting production. But what can you expect when the filmmaker, Brigitte Berman, is reportedly an old friend and a woman no less, possibly to nip any hunches in the bud that this may be a guy thing setup. An automatic advisory why it’s never a wise idea to mix business with pleasure.

Okay, so Hefner likely deserves his cinematic bragging rights in the doc for staking out a claim as an early pioneer in opposing the stranglehold of American sexual repression, promoting civil rights and integration during the shameful days of Jim Crow. And showcasing some of the most prestigious and memorable writing in his oxymoronic literary porn rag, like Ray Bradbury, Alex Haley, blacklisted writers such as Dalton Trumbo, and even the last article written by Martin Luther King Jr, to name a few.

Some will say the combo messiah/masturbation maven’s good deeds don’t excuse the lead he took in the commodification of women. While others with a more suspicious bent will suggest that the literary and progressive thrust of Playboy and the clubs, and the cultivation of his sideline politically subversive image-making was simply a Machiavellian move to extend his demographic and profit margins.

But the lack of debate in this ingratiating advertisement masquerading as a documentary, like one more metaphorical beaming bunny added to the sexually insatiable smut publisher’s collection, makes it hard to tell either way. And no, the fleeting soundbites of a couple of badly lit cranky feminists just won’t do. Though Susan Brownmiller’s advice to a suddenly speechless Hefner on television that he needs to don one of those bunny tails on his own behind to feel how the other shoe fits for a change, was a nice touch.

But Hefner’s not about to worry. Even when the grim reaper comes calling, he’s got plans. There’s a crypt already set up and paid for in full, right next to Marilyn.

And while the unconvinced out there might refer to the irony of Hefner’s trailblazer claims related to sexual freedom as hardly different from regressive harems or Middle Eastern/Mormon polygamy, there’s also that persistent elephant in the room in the course of this dubious documentary. That is, the hef-ty wallet, indeed possible hush money financing this endless sexual trafficking in women without which none of the rest of these sugar daddy fantasies come to life would exist, however willing the females. Who yes, can be counted as eager participants in their own exploitation.

Or to put it another way and on a more personal note, the experience I encountered as an eight year old with a very different sort of playmate, a next door neighbor friend who showed me her father’s secret stash of Playboy magazines she had discovered. The hurt look in her eyes is indelibly etched in my memory.

Phase 4 Films

Rated R

2 [out of 4] stars