Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking Out in America (Berman, 2018): Canada

Reviewed by Matheus Clorado. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2019.

Image result for hugh hefner playboy after dark speaking out in americaHugh Hefner’s After Dark will have people talking into the late hours. This historically rich documentary will impress even those already familiar with the Playboy publisher’s political views.

Brigitte Berman, honored with an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her 1986 Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got, comes back with this masterpiece that revolves around two TV shows hosted by Hefner – Playboy’s Penthouse and Playboy After Dark. The former ran during the late 50s and the latter, a decade later.

The atmosphere of those times was quite unstable, with the harsh reality of segregation. So, Hefner’s diverse private key clubs looked at from where our society stands today depicts how bold of an activist he really was. Both TV shows included male and female personalities in a relaxed environment filled with appetizers, good beverages and iconic pipes. If not the inventor of a soirée, this bon vivant absolutely pioneered in crafting a liberating lifestyle that would go on further for generations, impacting the entire world.

Berman focuses, however, on how significant his actions were for music history. Hefner not only welcomed women and men of color in his penthouse – he gave them a platform to share their music, their jokes and their voices. Featuring Nina Simone and present-day interviews with Whoopi Goldberg, Speaking Out in America is one of the most rewarding documentaries out there.

With an extensive amount of footage, this project unquestionably was puzzling. It certainly required a passionate driving interest for spreading the relevance of its content. Nearly just as impressive as the material covered is the editing job, also assisted by the director herself. At some point, a recorded performance of “Applause” blends in on the screen with a current-day revisit by the same artist – simply time-defying.

Needless to say that anyone should enjoy the experience constructed by Brigitte Berman and her team. The documentary effortlessly transcends from the Playboy world into the daily struggle of promoting equal rights and open dialogue, revealing its own relevance.

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