Helmut by June

Film
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
KINKY RICH Helmut's models obeyed Newton's laws of physics
Photograph: Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photographya KINKY RICH Helmut’s models obeyed Newton’s laws of physics

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

“The shrinking-violet woman really gives me the creeps,” says Helmut Newton in Helmut by June, a Cinemax documentary directed by his wife, June. The statement rings true: Whatever you think of Newton’s photography—or of this movie about the kinky fashion portraitist, who died in 2004—you can’t say he was a sucker for girl-next-door types.

His rigorously posed photographs are jet-set fantasies lacquered with surreal Teutonic mockery. While some of his women are victims—one bit of behind-the-scenes footage shows Newton staging a photo of a coldly fetishized home invasion—they are more often aggressors, looming over placidly submissive men and women like cyborg dominatrices. Though glossy, his work has a subversive edge. Newton was a rare iconographer of fashion who foregrounded the idea that the rich aren’t like you and me—they live in their own universe, and though they might claim otherwise, they get a powerful, even sexual charge out of being rich.

If you’re looking for a hit job on Newton, this ain’t it. The director was Newton’s wife, not his ex-wife, and while Helmut by June acknowledges persistent criticisms of his work, most objections are skimmed over, and Newton himself embraces the rest. Responding to gripes that he dehumanizes his subjects, he tells of how a model once complained that Newton’s directions conflicted with what she would do in the same situation. “My dear,” Newton replied, “I’m not interested in you. You’re getting paid to be made into what I want.” — Matt Zoller Seitz

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