All The Beauty and the Bloodshed | Film Review

By Emma Clarkson | February, 2023

Nan Goldin’s photography has an intangible essence that speaks to almost any age. Her mess-filled, cinematic photographs of tender moments between friends feed the young with an exciting sense of what is to come and the old with a heart-string-tugging nostalgia for what once was. As an observer of Nan Goldin’s photographs, where we witness the intimate lives of those closest to her, it is easy to mistake Goldin for a fellow observer. Quietly functioning as a camera obscura through which the viewer and Goldin become one spectator. Laura Poitras’ Academy Award nominated documentary All The Beauty and the Bloodshed places Goldin’s own life centre frame in a captivatingly honest account.

The documentary sets itself against the backdrop of Goldin’s recent struggles with opioid addiction and her subsequent activism and legal battle against the Sackler family. The family are the owners of Purdue Pharma, producer and promoter of OxyContin, a reformulated version of oxycodone, which has been equated as key in the emergence of the North American opioid epidemic. Listed in Forbes list of richest families in America, the Sackler name is more commonly associated with the art world. Many exhibition spaces and departments bear the family’s name, achieved through generous donations to prestigious arts institutions such as the Louvre in Paris, The Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Tate in London as well as universities around the globe. The documentary follows the Goldin-led activist group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) as they urge these organisations to renounce the Sackler funds and take down their title from galleries and educational centres around the world.

No stranger to invisible suffering, Goldin has lived through loss throughout her life, from her emotionally deficient upbringing to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The documentary brings you behind the curtain of the artist’s photography, conveying a depth and an ache that will irreversibly alter the way you look at her work. As the silent story teller, Poitras weaves together the many vibrant threads of Goldin’s past and present into a moving portrait of a spirited artist who has truly lived through all the beauty and all the bloodshed.

Image: Nan Goldin, Guido Floating, 1999, Levanzo, Sicily, Cibachrome, 35.6 × 53.3 cm

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