‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ – Review

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a portrait of Nan Goldin, a New York based artist and activist. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, only the second documentary to do so, and was selected as the Centerpiece for the New York Film Festival. The film combines layers of Goldin’s personal life and artistry with layers of her work as an activist and the result is a stunning documentary.

Director Laura Poitras uses Nan Goldin’s slideshows to create an essential viewing through two timelines. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed shows how the art and activism intertwine by one timeline following Goldin’s life story through voiceover with her artwork on screen and another timeline displaying Goldin’s fight against the Sackler family for their responsibility in the opioid crisis. Poitras initially planned to focus on Goldin’s activism but found the artist so open about her personal life, she decided to embrace all topics discussed in the documentary.

The fight against the Sackler family, their company Purdue Pharma, and their creation of OxyContin was personal for Goldin. Goldin has survived an addiction to opioids after being prescribed OxyContin for an injury. The Sackler name may be familiar to some from the art world itself; you could have previously seen their name at the Met, the Louvre, or at a museum at Harvard, Oxford or Columbia.

The documentary covers a lot of ground as Goldin tells much of her life story and we also see so much of her art, struggles, and fight against the Sackler’s throughout the film. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed starts with Goldin discussing her early upbringing, but focuses on her sister Barbara’s suicide. This is a topic returned to throughout the film as it had a huge impact on Goldin’s life. She describes a ‘claustrophobic suburbia’ for her upbringing before being shipped off to foster homes throughout her teenage years before she relocates to New York City with a lifelong friend she makes in a foster home, David Armstrong. 

Various chapters of the documentary cover Goldin’s early start in her career in New York and she leaves no detail untold. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a slide show of photographs taken between 1979 and 1986 is shown throughout most of the documentary alongside archival footage of Goldin and her friends in New York in this time period. Goldin dives in on her times not just as a successful artist but also as a sex worker and a heroin addict, and explores how she made it out of an abusive relationship. In the 80s, you can feel the pain of the AIDS crisis hitting New York not just through the images and footage captured, but the pain in Goldin’s voice as she tells the changes and loss she experienced. Through the AIDS crisis, Goldin saw groups like ACT UP! take action and this where P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addition Intervention Now), her organization against the Sackler family, takes much inspiration from. 

To this day, the art world is the only place to hold the Sacklers accountable, as numerous museums, schools, and other institutions are refusing their donations and removing their names from their establishments. Poitras utilizes talking head interviews from various P.A.I.N. members and journalists, alongside footage of the bankruptcy trial of Purdue Pharma to show that while Purdue may have been hit financially, the Sackler family never was personally tried in a court of law for their role in the opioid epidemic. This leads to the film’s most powerful moment as a few of the Sackler family members are forced to watch testimonies over Zoom from the victims’ families whose lives they have forever destroyed, including Nan Goldin. 

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is not about the opioid crisis; it is not about art; it is not about the Sackler family. It is about Nan Goldin and how she has spent a lifetime becoming the activist she is today. There is a power in what she is able to achieve through her art and her voice. Poitras pairs the timelines of Goldin’s life with her present-day battle against the Sackler family to show what makes such an influential activist, artist and person. 

Grade: A

Oscars Prospects:
Likely: Best Documentary Feature
Should be Considered: Best Picture

Where to Watch: In Theaters

Kenzie Vanunu
she/her @kenzvanunu
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
Sign: Capricorn

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