Wednesday, July 22, 2020



Directed by Gero von Boehm, Opening July 24 in Chicago’s Music Box Virtual Theater at

“Everybody remembers a bad picture. Nobody remembers the pain you went through to get a good picture.” Those were the immortal words of the great, celebrated and somewhat off-beat fashion photographic genius Helmut Newton, the subject of director Gero von Boehm’s expressive documentary Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful. It opened Friday July 24 in Chicago’s Music Box Virtual Theater at

The film is an Official Selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.

Helmut Newton is considered one of the most important and controversial photographers of the 20th Century. His photographs appeared regularly in in Vogue, both in the USA and internationally, Elle, Playboy and Marie-Claire, among others. He was the subject of numerous international solo exhibitions and established his own museum in Copenhagen.

“World famous photographer Helmut Newton died today in a car crash in West Hollywood,” an off-screen narrator intones early in the film. Dead at 83, Newton left behind a plethora of unforgettable, sometimes shocking images that lept from the pages of Vogue and other publications, creating the images that were the calling cards of  fashion legends Karl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent, among others.

Legendary Vogue Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour explains:
“In Helmut’s visual world, the women are everything. “

Helmut Newton liked to explain it thusly, “Men are just accessories, like hats and gloves.

 Famed Italian actress and frequent Helmut model Isabella Rossellini sums it up best; “Helmut doesn’t just look at women as a sexual object. It’s much more complicated than that. A Helmut Newton woman is strong, provocative and in charge.

“At the same time, the photos are an expression of machismo, but also an expression of a culture.  Men are attracted to women. At the same time, they are also angry at them. Because they ARE attracted to them, it makes them (the men) vulnerable, and that makes men resentful!”

That psychological conundrum sheds some light on the iconic photographs that Newton took with perhaps his most controversial subject, the performance artist and singing legend Grace Jones. Newton photographed Jones lying nude with a knife in her hand, poised to attack some unseen assailant.

“He seemed a little bit perverted,” Jones said of her first impression of Newton . “But, so am I. So it’s allright! His idea for the photo was erotic, but with dimensions. it had depth. It told a story.

“ I watched everything he did, because he took the picture so quickly.  He was waiting for just the right moment, when the light was coming down.

“ I remember I was lying there naked on a cot, and he put a knife in my hand. The way that the light cast a shadow as it was moving, at one point it covered just over this part here ,” she says, pointing to her private area.  “ But there was never anything vulgar about it. It was beautiful. It was done as if it was something to add to the story. “

She continues. “He (Helmut) waits just until the light hits the knife before he takes the picture. But there’s no one else in the picture, so it leaves the rest to your imagination. You’re still wondering, because it tells a story.”

Helmut loved to photograph celebrities from all walks of life; from politicians and Hollywood icons to social trend-setters. His errant lens fell on everyone from Margaret Thatcher to Dennis Hopper and Liz Taylor to Playboy’s Hugh Hefner.

“If I’m going to do a portrait,” Newton intones, “it has to be something with people that have power. Either political power, financial power, or sexual power. They make pretty good subjects for my camera,” he says offhandedly with a laugh.

Fashion editors competed to throw assignments his way.  So much so that they accepted even his wildest conceptions without reservation.

 For some reason, Newton had an obsession with chickens. That obsession resulted in a series of fashion shoots involving uncooked chickens splayed with raw provocation on a counter juxtaposed with a model wearing expensive jewelry or clothing.  Helmut Newton tells the story of this odd fixation. “So I’m going through this kitchen and the cook has prepared a chicken to be put in the oven. It was lying there, just as in my photo, with the legs spread out and lying next to it, the string to tie the legs together as if it was looking at me. And then came the ‘moment’.

“I was given an assignment to shoot some expensive jewelry for Bulgari.  When the people there saw the photos in the magazine, they almost passed out.  They said, ‘How can this guy photograph our million dollar rocks with this bloody mean chicken, that is lying so provatively on the table?’   The photo shows the hand of a woman and she is wearing very expensive jewelry. But, she is obviously in the kitchen and she is preparing the chicken. And I said to them…’Why not?’ I find these two opposites madly exciting!”

 Vogue Editor and photo stylist Phyllis Posnick tells another amusing Helmut ‘chicken’ story. “So I called him and said that we were doing an article on Fried Chicken and would he be interested in doing a picture. There was a long pause, and he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to photograph a chicken in high heels!” So we got a tiny pair of heels from the Doll Museum in Paris and flew them straight from Paris to his apartment in Monte Carlo. His assistant walked  me up the hill to his butcher and I picked out the chicken with the best looking legs and took it back to him and he shot the picture in his kitchen.”

Helmut Newton was born Helmut Neussaedter in 1920s Berlin. He legally changed his name to Helmut Newton in Melbourne in 1946. He says that growing up in Berlin, he became acutely aware of the perils of being Jewish in the throes of growing Anti-Semitism. He tells this story with wry humor. “As a teenager, I was thrown out of the local park for trying to undress a girl underwater in the pool. The park had a sign at the entrance that read ‘No Dogs Or Jews allowed.’

Helmut dropped out of high school and took an apprenticeship with a local fashion magazine run by a woman who went only by the name Yva. “I worshipped the ground she walked on,” Helmut recalled joyfully. “Through her, I learned everything…lighting, composition. I was truly an apprentice in every sense of the word.  And I loved every minute of it.”

At that time, fashion magazines only used sketches of imaginary models to show off the latest styles. Yva revolutionized that concept for  the entire industry by becoming the first to use live models in her fashion spreads. Helmut would become her star photographer. Sadly, Yva would die in a concentration camp, presumably in 1942.

When the Nazis rose to power in 1938, Helmut fled to Trieste and jumped aboard a steamship bound for China ( “I remember the name. It was the Conte Rossa),   He had gotten a job as a foreign correspondent for.  “I was a terrible reporter,” he laughs.  “By the time I got my rig set up, the story had passed. Everybody was long gone. I got fired within two weeks, and wound up stranded on the streets of Shanghai without a penny in my pocket.”

In time, he made his way to Australia, and that’s where he met a young gallery assistant named  Judy, who would become his wife and life partner in his photographic studio. The two were inseparable and magical. She was both his manager and his muse. She inspired him and gave flight to his wildest ideas.

Throughout his career, fashion editors clamored for a ‘Helmut Newton.’ His name had become synonymous with bold, arresting images capable of putting a product and a publication on the map.  Vogue USA’s fierce Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour. “Everyone wants a real ‘stopper’ in their magazine . Something iconic that really stands out. Even disturbing.” With that, director von Boehm cuts to Newton’s photo of a pair of shapely legs wearing a fetching pair of stilettos sticking out of a body bag on a rocky Cannes beach. Signature Newton.

“Most movies about photographers are boring,” Newton shouts over his shoulder as he climbs the stairs to his lair at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood Hills. To be sure, in Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful, he is anything but.

Friday, July 17, 2020



By Dwight Casimere

Chicago-bred, award-winning director Gabe Polsky takes a penetrating, tragic-comic look at the world of Russian professional hockey in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. His documentary film, Red Penguins, premiered to critical acclaim as an Official Selection at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Released by Universal Pictures, Red Penguin is available to Rent or Own Aug. 4.

As seen through the eyes of ambitious New York marketing whiz-kid Steve Warshaw, the film charts his wild scheme to transform a flailing Olympic Gold Russian Hockey team, into a sports promoter’s dream, complete with beer guzzling dancing bears, stripper “cheerleaders” and a multi-million dollar promotion deal complete with an ‘icing-on-the-cake’ (pardon the pun) Disney movie deal. All this takes place against the backdrop of the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian mob boss threats, and unbridled corruption, or as Steve Warshaw puts it, “The rule in Russia is that there are no rules!”

Filmmaker Polsky is no stranger to the world of Russian professional hockey. His Sony Classics Pictures documentary Red Army premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews and was given its hometown debut at that year’s Chicago Film Festival. Red Army was a much more sober look at the development of the Soviet Union’s Olympic Gold winning titan of the ‘70s and ’80 and its rigorous training program. Potential stars were nurtured from their pre-teen years right through to the pros in an all-pervasive world, separated almost entirely from family and friends, living in total isolation. These players would have survived well in the current ‘bubble’ atmosphere U.S. pro teams are attempting to create, with halting success, in the current COVID era.

Shortly after the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia took on the atmosphere of the ‘wild, wild East. Steve Warshaw got wind that the NHL was interested in starting a franchise in Moscow. The league had already been importing star players from the Soviet Union, which had taken over all the top spots in the league.

At the outset, the Russians don’t quite know what to do with the curly-headed Jewish kid from New York and his wisecracking, backslapping ways and kooky ideas. His jocular demeanor and adventurous spirit is completely foreign to the tightly wound, controlling world of post Cold War Russia. The Russians also don’t quite trust him, but they find him fascinating and disarming in an amusing sort of way. They even give him a nickname that roughly translates to ‘an asshole with a handle.’  You had to be there to get it.  In spite of it all, Warshaw gets what he wants out of the Russians and more. His disarming humor and ability to forge ahead through the towering inferno of entangled Russian intrigue while wearing asbestos blinders makes him seemingly invincible. Nothing shakes Warshaw, not even the atmosphere of spontaneous and ever-present violence that swirls around him. ‘What me worry,’ is the seeming motto of this Mad Magazine Alfred E. Newman transplant.

Nothing like the Red Penguins had ever been seen in Russia before. Nor have they ever experienced a personality in the likeness of Steve Warshaw.

  When Warshaw first gets the idea to buy the floundering team in Russia, his business advisor thought it was just crazy enough to work, so he gave the go-ahead. When he approaches his Russian partners in Moscow, he says, brazenly, ‘I can fill this arena in six months” They respond, ‘Not even the Resurrection of Jesus Christ can fill this arena!”

Warshaw quickly proves them wrong. He starts by giving away free American Beer (Penguin Brewing, of course, from Pittsburgh), advancing to dancing bears from the Moscow Circus acting as Beer Meisters on ice, then moving up to an intermission show complete with scantily clad cheerleaders, borrowed from the local strip club conveniently located in the arena’s basement to a grand finale intermission time fan giveaway of a luxury SUV. Before it’s all over, there’s a sponsor partnerships with likes of Nike and Disney that even includes production of the film Mighty Ducks 5, a natural shoo-in to the blockbuster film franchise.

Warshaw quickly learns that in the new day Russia, nothing happens without intervention from the mob. “To live by the rules of the underworld,” Warshaw observes wryly, “is to live normally.”

Red Penguins is a sweeping saga of a doc that rollicks between the worlds of comedy, tragedy, murder and intrigue, with real-life scenes of a modern-day insurrection thrown in for good measure. Although a scant 80 minutes long, it covers a lot of territory and gives you about as complete a picture of the forces that shape modern-day Russia as any lecture series at your local chapter of the World Affairs Council, only it’s a lot more entertaining. For more information on seeing the film on your home screen, visit




Brian Dennehy’s final film, Driveways, is a case study in quiet resolution. As Del, a widowed Korean War veteran consumed in his own deluge of self-pity and grief, he conveys a depth of emotion without speaking a word. Director Andrew Ahn makes full use Dennehy’s towering talents to contrast his character against those of his new next door neighbors, a Korean American single mom, Kathy (Hong Chau of HBO’s “Watchmen”) and her disarmingly charming 8 year old son Cody (Lucas Jaye). 

Driveways is available to stream or download on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Cable On-Demand, and Google Play.

The story of Driveways develops slowly, but powerfully. Del sits stoically on his front porch, licking his lingering emotional wounds in silence, while Cathy and Cody confront the whirlwind of confusion and uncertainty that is their current state of affairs. Kathy is charged with clearing out and selling the house of her recently deceased older sister Alice.  The gravity of the situation is further weighed by the shocking disarray of the house; a stunning reflection of her late sister’s emotional decay. Alice was a hoarder who lived in isolation. The discovery of her dead cat only served to punctuate the desperate state of affairs. With no place else to go, Kathy and Cody are reduced to sleeping on the deck. The curious Cody makes his way to Del’s front porch and each, in their halting ways, come out of their separate protective cocoon’s of personal pain and loss, and work their way into each other’s hearts.

“Whose Vera?, Cody asks innocently, spying a discarded piece of old mail on Del’s porch. She is Del’s deceased wife, and so begins the unraveling of layers of protective emotional gauze covering a series of deep and unhealed wounds in both.

Driveways, in its quiet way, speak volumes in this age of crisis and isolation. It is the perfect bromide to this troubled time and worthy of more than a single viewing. Besides the subject of social and emotional isolation, it also tackles the issues of aging, such as the onslaught of dimension and the perils of economic displacement along the way. These are issues that are playing out with greater resonance with each passing day.

Driveways is also a shining example of a simple story well told. Director Ahn is masterful at allowing his characters to speak with resounding authority in their quietest moments. The fact that Dennehy’s character is a Korean War veteran and that Kathy and Cody are Korean Americans adds further subtext in these racially charged times. It is also a much-needed bromide of human bonding in a time of prolonged social isolation due to the pandemic.

Driveways has been streaming for a couple of months on VOD. I first viewed the film just prior to its premiere on May 7. It has taken on even greater meaning a second time around.