All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Running Time: 122 Minutes
UK Release Date: Friday 27th January 2023
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed explores the career of photographer and activist Nan Goldin and it examines the pivotal role she played in the rebellion against the Sackler family.
The documentary starts off harrowingly with protests at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur which essentially acted as one of the battlefields for the protests against the Opioid Epidemic. After the thought-provoking opening sequence, what follows is a film that is an eloquently presented portrait of Nan Goldin’s career. The story is broken up into incredibly focused chapters that for the first half focus on Nan’s life growing up and the second half focuses on the battle against the Sackler family.
Laura Poitras utilises slideshows of Nan’s photographs beautifully throughout the first half of each chapter. Using the individual photographs allows for the best window into Nan’s life, as each picture paints an adequate subtext as to what Nan wanted to stand for her with her artwork. The aesthetic and simple approach is truly sympathetic in always reminding us Nan’s talent as an artist.
There is a real emotional complexity when Nan talks about her upbringing and specifically with her sister, it added a strong resonance as to why Nan started out doing the photos she did first in her career. The documentary also covers Nan’s role in New York’s downtown scene with her distinctive and diverse work on The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. The film is daring in the approach, as you get a comprehensive insight as to certain tragedies that have struck Nan in the past. One example was where Nan discusses how a relationship ended badly, as they did not how to break up and you see the repercussions of the psychological torture through her photos. The collection was specifically titled “Nan One Month After Being Battered”. The timeliness of these pictures in particular carry so much weight for worldwide issues happening today.
Also, the film comments on political issues such as the AIDs crisis, as Nan’s photos were intended to shed light on what is truly going on, as she even knew people who were going through the issues herself. At the time of her work, there had been around 14,600 deaths. Importantly, the film is not afraid to avoid the harsh reality and facts that were occurring during this period.
The most alarming yet ferocious aspect of the documentary came from the efforts to hold down Purdue Pharma which is a corporation owned by the Sackler Family to account for the Opioid Epidemic. The epidemic is still spiralling out of control rapidly, as Oxycontin was designed to be an addictive drug to get people hooked and consistently wanting more. Hearing the personal impact Oxycontin had on Nan was disturbing, as well as the other families who had lost loved ones due to being prescribed the toxic materials of Oxycontin. Discovering how P.A.I.N was founded (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) is the true heart of this piece, as the documentary shows the uprise of the group in an awe-inspiring manner. The court meeting on Zoom was devastating and shocking to discover this how deep the drug issue truly is. A critical theme was “Sackler’s Lie, Thousands Die”. It is a truly heroic act of courage to hold the art institutions affiliated with the Sackler Family to account, especially when the museums house Nan’s work too.
However, the slight flaw stems from the structure of the documentary, as if the story was told sequentially rather than jumping back on time periods, it may be easier for audiences to keep sufficient track of events. The timelines do have similarities in the second half of the documentary though.
The documentary always feels like Laura Poitras is in full support of what Nan Goldin stands for, utilising a plethora of life events to create a beautiful picture that everyday heroes do exist. It is a documentary about what someone’s work can truly stand for in the end, the unanimous collection of people fighting for what they believe in and importantly it is about legacy.
Patrick Radden Kaffe