Another day, another stylish documentary to bookmark for your viewing pleasure this autumn. This time it’s a new cinematic special celebrating the life and career of one of the most iconic photographers, Helmut Newton, released in the UK this weekend.
Timing wise, it coincides with what would have been the visionary’s 100th birthday this year (he died in a fatal car crash in California in 2004, on his way from The Chateau Marmont to shoot models in Santa Monica).
The film, entitled Helmut Newton: the Bad and The Beautiful, focuses on his ambiguous and controversial erotic black and white photography. Provocative, perhaps, but never boring. Known for his humorous and playful persona, to such an extent that even Susan Sontag publicly accused him of being a misogynist (there’s archival footage from a French talk show, when she argues with the oft described "King of Kink" featured in the movie).
So, was he sexist or feminist? Did he have good or bad taste? Did he treat women as subjects or objects of his lens? To answer these questions, film director Gero von Boehm passes the mic to Helmut Newton’s most famous subjects. Claudia Schiffer, Charlotte Rampling, Grace Jones, Isabella Rosselini, Catherine Deneuve, and Sylvia Gobbel, among others - all argue that Newton empowered them to be stronger. Paying tribute to the icon, with stories that occurred behind-the-scenes.
Legendary US Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, who often commissioned Newton photos for the magazine, says she knew the images produced would be powerful enough to make her readers stop whatever they were doing in that moment.
"Many people think that the women he photographed were just objects”, says Gero von Boehm, a close friend of Newton’s. “Of course, everything in front of a lens becomes an object, but Helmut wanted to show women’s dimensions and to tell their stories”. He continues: “His photos were either the beginning or the end of a story and the rest is simply our fantasies around it”. You can watch the film on Curzon Home Cinema and download it starting from October 23. Check out the trailer here.