Arena, New York Times, Miami, 1978 Photo by Helmut Newton, courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation
Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful, directed by Gero von Boehm, was meant to premier at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring, but since that was postponed, the documentary of photographys enfant terrible is now having its debut online, streaming on New York Film Forums Virtual Cinema. For better or worse, the film—opening in the Me Too era like a time capsule of the male gaze on steroids—is evidence of Newtons staying power.
Newton was know for a signature style of photography, usually in black and white and depicting a woman—young, tall, thin, nude and defiant. That transgressive female icon became Newtons brand, his boilerplate. He photographed women for Vogue, worked for mainstream erotic magazines like Playboy, and published books of nudes that brought high prices once their limited editions sold out. His photographs that challenged what was commercially publishable in the 1960s, and when fashion needed some frisson, he could usually provide it. Men, as photographic subjects, were accessories for him, “like hats and gloves”, he says.
Fittingly, in the film we do not hear from Newtons photographer peers, but from the women who posed for him—such as the actors Charlotte Rampling, Grace Jones, Isabella Rossellini, Claudia Schiffer, and Hannah Schygulla. Each recalls how Newton empowered her to stand confidently, clothed or not, as he clicked encouragingly. Those endorsements can sound like a pep rally from another era, with cutaway shots to a blithe Newton savouring his 15 minutes—or rather five decades—as another twist on the myth of the man who only strives to please women rather than himself. What about the women who did not love him?
The documentarys only dissenting voice is Susan Sontag, a guest along with Newton on the French literary television show, Apostrophes, in 1979. Speaking in French, Sontag calls Newton a misogynist who humiliates women. She repeats that charge after Newton grins mischievously and claims to love them. Calm and patiently insistent, Sontag says that she has heard similar things from men “who put women in humiliating pictures”. She would have much more company today.
We hear nothing more about Newtons pictures from the author of On Photography, or from any other photography critics, in the film. The indifference seems to have been mutual, since Newton declared that he despised art and good taste—yet bad taste could bring out the artist in him. Phyllis Posnick, a Vogue editor, recalls requesting a photograph of a roast chicken. The result, after Newton massaged the cooked bird, is a trussed animal with its drumsticks stuck into tiny high heels, an image that evokes the Dadaism of 1920s Berlin, where Newton grew up.
The voluble Newton brags that his “bad” side got him into trouble as a Jewish teenager in Hitlers Germany. The son of a bourgeois Jewish button-maker, Newton (Helmut Neustädter) says his father scorned his notion that pRead More – Source
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