Frames from the Edge: Helmut Newton ArtHaus - Art and Design Series
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Strong women in provocative poses, confident, mysterious in Helmut Newton's photography, the lines between art and pornography are blurred. Whether fashion, portraiture or nudes, Newton's dramatically staged, voyeuristic shots are also
reflections of Western society. In 1988, Adrian Maben visited the star photographer in his adopted home in
Monte Carlo and accompanied him to photo sessions in Los Angeles, Berlin and Paris. On these trips, he caught rare glimpses of the artist's private life and work. Stars like Karl Lagerfeld and Catherine Deneuve recount what it was like to work with one of the most
sought-after photographers of the 20th century.
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The story is usually about an "idle rich" and tall young woman, with nothing but time to burn on self-pampering; yet, school girlish when actually connecting with the Photographer, via phone. Then, this "untouchable", cultured figure, loses the grandeur and is relegated to back street mystery. A room with a small table in the center, lit only by the sunlight and Newton's reflector.
A great travelogue, here with a number of up close interviews with the models, famous and semi-famous.
If you think you're getting just a movie version of a helmut Newton book, forget it - this is an advanced course in how a Photographer who rschews art is anything but pornographic.
There is an incredible black and white photo of a young heiress and her Mother, just sad shades of gray in the B & W; the child looks unhappily into the camera and the adult focuses on her own shoes.
Although I have no way of knowing for certain, I think the films and videos of his work may have problems with the censors of many nations and that's why they are hard to find?
Unlike "Newton's Autobiography" that paints him much like a randy gigolo, one of the startling conclusions that is so obvious in this film is that he is a very professional, somewhat shy professional photographer that enjoys being around stunningly beautiful women but it's strictly a business proposition for him. Several of the more interesting scenes in the video are of Helmut sitting in a directors chair literally surrounded by star-struck beautiful young women that seem to be dying to be photographed in the nude by him. He is constantly shown looking at them and their modeling book samples and asking questions about their experience and physical condition. Some of them disrobe to show him their physical attributes but several are too shy to do that, at least on camera. After all, Newton's wife June, the motion picture camera crew, his photographic assistant and make up people are always present.
It was also fascinating that so many of his models were interested in having nude photographs done by him that they didn't even want to be paid modeling fees for their work. More startling was that seemed okay with Helmut who appeared to accept their offer to work for no pay. Models often work for free prints for their own books and photos by Newton are always impressive when they are looking for a paid modeling gig.
There were lots of other interesting things in this documentary. Helmut had so much trouble with people digging through his trash to claim prints that he'd rejected as not up to his standards, that he always ripped up those rejects before putting them in the trash. For some portraits he printed the proofs on a brown plastic photographic paper that quickly turned completely brown after a very short time or if someone attempted to have them copied. Even unsigned Helmut Newton prints are very valuable and at least one magazine art director was caught trying to sell some of his work at auction without owning the rights to it.
The video provides some very interesting peeks into the edgy photographic style of one of the masters of photographing female nudes. Much of his work reflects his memories of the German women he met throughout his long life. He claims to like to recreate the memories of his long life in a very erotic way. From his lifestyle, it seems he also managed to make a good living doing what he liked and photographing in his own unique style. The video includes movie star models such as Catherine Deneuve and "Ghost Busters" and "Alien" star Sigourney Weaver. It's obvious from the film that both those female motion picture greats love working with Helmut Newton.
More than a documentary about this world famous photographer, best known for his fashion photos and nude photos of women in unusual and erotic positions, this is a series of "living photos", as we follow Newton as he shoots these models and the photos come to life. The narrator gives us the basic facts and the rest consists of interviews with Newton, who definitely has a big ego but can be very funny as well, along with his wife and his models, both famous (Candace Bergen and Catherine Deneuve) and not. WE don't learn about his growing up years - that would have been nice - but, rather, on his life during his productive, and lucrative, years. He refers to his high fee often.
The film is rather long - at 100 minutes - but there's such beauty in the women he shoots that you don't mind. You won't learn anything about photography here, nor much about Newton's background, but you won't be bored. You will experience pop culture in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles (his two homes) in the 80s as you follow him to his favorite haunts.
If you like Newton's photographs, and especially if you enjoy great black and white photographs of nude females, you will definitely like this film. Though not perfect, its worth seeking out in this new release.