Helmut by June
Empty7 p.m., Monday, April 30
I love the fact that this quirky and undeniably intriguing documentary about the kinky and erotically driven fashion photographer Helmut Newton -- culled from video snippets shot by his wife of 56 years, June -- is being presented on Cinemax at 7 p.m. PDT/EDT. Take THAT, FCC! Yes, we've got women posing in frilly lingerie, in bondagewear, even in their birthday suits in the pre-primetime fringe hour. It kind of renders the whole notion of the commission's get-tough crackdown on the broadcast networks a tad ridiculous.
But digression aside, the hourlong "Cinemax Reel Life" entry "Helmut by June" is very much something you rarely see on television or anyplace else: an unvarnished profile of a provocative artist in all of his avant-garde glory. It captures a man playing by his own rules who seemingly placed no limits on his imagination even at the risk of societal alienation, which in today's world qualifies the German-born Newton as utterly courageous.
Of course, Newton sadly is no longer a part of the world except in memory. He died in 2004 at age 84. But thankfully, his widow was inspired to turn on the video camera to record many of her husband's photo shoots in the 1990s. It opens a fascinating window on the charismatic style of a true original. Filmmaker Brett Ratner, a friend of Newton's, helped June organize her visuals into a tapestry replete with her own narrative. We see Newton interact with the likes of Cindy Crawford and Luciano Pavarotti, using his fertile mind to craft lasting images of the famous and anonymous alike. Newton was vilified as an exploiter, a misogynist and a pornographer for his use of voyeuristic titillation and sadomasochistic scenarios in his photos. But as we see in this alluring hour, he also was an unapologetic anti-establishment innovator who used his lens to mock those who might look to shackle free expression.