In an ironic convergence of timing, this new documentary becomes available at about the same time it was announced his favorite haunt would become a private club. The opening and closing sequences of Helmut Newton: The Bad And The Beautiful takes place at Chateau Marmont, the famous Sunset Strip venue. A voluptuous nude is shown draped over the hotel’s parapet at night, the now-long-gone Marlboro man watching appreciatively. Helmut Newton (1920-2004) oversees the tableau amusedly, not knowing that would be the location of his fatal auto accident decades later.

Sequences of Newton’s photo shoots from around the globe are interspersed with interviews from models and publishers, such as Grace Jones, Isabella Rossellini, Anna Wintour, Charlotte Rampling, Marianne Faithfull, Claudia Schiffer and Nadja Auermann. The recurrent theme of his work is the strong, dominant and fully naked female.

The misogyny of Newton’s work is evident to many, and the issue is aired out in an intriguing debate between Newton and Susan Sontag. Some of his models also articulate their justifications for being part of his work. Charlotte Rampling points out her personal life is far more demure than how Newton portrayed her. “It stimulates all sorts of conversations,” Rampling asserts. Indeed, it is another example about if and how to separate the art and the man. One model describes how during her nude shoot at age 19, she was not the hunted deer but she was in control. Grace Jones echoes the sentiment as she describes her experiences with Newton. But she admits that is not what comes through the finished prints.

Marianne Faithfull never thought she would pose for Newton and says she was a prude; quite an admission for the former muse of Jagger and Richards.

Director Gero von Boehm explores Newton’s roots, growing up Jewish as Hitler came to power. The influence of Leni Riefenstahl’s images of physical perfection is analyzed.

The clips throughout the documentary are well chosen, and one sequence of a gallery opening is superbly paired with “Pictures of You” by The Cure. It is a great juxtaposition as patrons of high society stand inches from oversized full frontal nudes, presumably discussing details like f-stop and film speed.

Trailer here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.