Hugh Hefner: Once Upon a Time

(Robert Heath, USA, 1992)


An oddity from the production company of Lynch and his collaborator Mark Frost that lurks in some video shops is the documentary Hugh Hefner: Once Upon a Time. This has the Twin Peaks touch right from the opening credits: eerie muzak, slow motion figures in absurdly green fields and a creepy looking bird in a tree.

Actually, one is a little surprised to see that Hefner himself is not listed high among the producers, since this biography is nothing if not flattering to the “father of the Playboy ethos”. At age 68, Hefner tells us his life story: it is a triumphant tale of the victory over the sexual repression ruling Bible Belt America, of changing lifestyles and personal freedom.

Very little criticism of Hefner, his life or work, is allowed into the proceedings. When it comes to the history of feminist criticisms against Playboy, Hefner will only say that he benefited enormously from the “conscience [sic] raising” of the women’s movement – although how this conscience manifested itself in the pages of his magazine remains something of a mystery.

Best of all is the vast archive of audiovisual material used in the film. Old TV clips of talk show interviews, strange black and white documentaries showing Hefner at his niftiest, split second montages of American history through the decades – all are mixed and treated in the liveliest way. Hugh Hefner: Once Upon a Time is both hypnotic and hilarious.

© Adrian Martin May 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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