Thursday, July 23, 2020

Bob's Cinema Diary: July 22 — ‘Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful’

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful
Whatever You think of the iconic photographer Helmut Newton, you'd be hard-pressed to say that the adventurous -- some would say outrageous -- Newton didn't have fun. As Grace Jones, one of Newton's subjects, aptly puts it in the documentary Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful, "He was a little perverse, but so am I." As a photographer, Newton was attracted to nudity, eroticism, and outre poses. A rarefied group of bold-faced names discusses the late photographer's work. Included are Anna Wintour, Charlotte Rampling, Claudia Schiffer, Isabella Rosellini, and most revealingly, Marianne Faithful. Director Gero von Boehm also provides bits of interviews with Newton himself, a devoted husband whose wife June turns up, as well. A Jew who left Germany for China prior to World War II, Helmut expresses no bitterness toward his home country. His work was influenced by the free-flying liberalism of the Weimar Republic in Berlin and by its controlled opposite, Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia, a chronicle of the 1936 Olympics. I wish the film had done more to explore this strange split. Boehm doesn't include much by way of negative criticism, although he does show a clip in which Susan Sontag accuses Newton of misogyny. Others, it should be noted, see the women in Newton's photograph as domineering and even defiant. Mostly, the film's interviewees present Newton as more committed to putting his stamp on his images. That's a commendable stance for a photographer whose work often reached the level of art but I wondered whether the movie had gotten deep enough into Newton's psyche to be considered the last word on a man who set his own standards and whose work defied convention. Newton died in a car crash in Los Angeles in 2004.

No comments: