It’s not exaggeration to say that Playboy is the most controversial magazine in the history, of well, magazines. But one person’s positive influence is indisputable, that of Art Paul, the Art Director of the magazine for 29 years. He nurtured artists’ careers and added sophistication to what some considered soft porn. Director Jian Ping (Jennifer Hou Kwong)’s examination of this trailblazing artist’s career is a definitive survey of the mixture of high and low art and Playboy magazine and Art Paul’s roles in its distillation.
The film features interviews with Hugh Hefner, Christie Hefner, Brad Holland, James Goggin, Max Temkin, Alisa Wolfson, etc., who attest to the influence of not only Playboy, but Paul as well. Ping makes significant connections between Paul’s Bauhaus training at the New Bauhaus and how his singular fusion of Fine and Commercial Art led to the creation of the most iconic logo, possibly ever, the Playboy bunny.
The segments that chart this fusion, using past page layouts and covers of the magazine, are a skip through the most significant movements and ideas of Paul’s era. And if the film were solely that, it would be fulfilling in its own right, but it’s the examination of Paul, who’s described as a “Renaissance Man,” that adds an endearing tenderness toward its subject.
Ping sketches this figure together by exemplifying his post-Playboy work in its proper artist role, by employing his essential and pithy quotes pertaining to life and art, and by affectionately examining his relationship with his wife and biggest supporter, Suzanne Seed. The result is a film that’s as varied as the artist, and acts as a showcase for his immense, and sometimes underappreciated, talent.
An official selection of the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF): 2018.