Watch The Trailer
Storyline (warning: spoilers)
“The wrong things are kept private, and it destroys people,” the photographer Nan Goldin says in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, the tremendously moving and illuminating new documentary from Laura Poitras. Goldin’s art specialised in portraying young outsiders who might not ordinarily be in the spotlight, but in 2017, she wrote an extraordinary article in Artforum that announced a new focus: her near-fatal struggles with addiction to the painkiller OxyContin and the organisation, PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), she was founding to hold the drug’s purveyors to account. No longer, she maintained, would the Sackler family and its biggest company, Purdue Pharma, be able to make millions of dollars off their helplessly addicted customers, who died in the thousands from overdoses – at least, not without their business being exposed to the world, especially the art world, which benefited from what Goldin called “blood money”.
It’s not every day when an artist of Goldin’s stature puts herself on the line against such a powerful foe, but PAIN is only one strand in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, a beautifully constructed film that shuttles through multiple narratives and histories: Goldin’s traumatic family past, the friend-families she found in Boston and New York, the personal and social circles explored in her soul-baring work, and the present-day efforts by PAIN to target museums like the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art with protests
Poitras’s work (The Oath, 2010; Citizenfour 2015; Risk, 2016) has long shown an interest in secrets and secrecy, plumbing their dimensions, testing the tools, connecting the dots to shadowy parties. The conclusion is often unsettling – our lives are far less private than we ever suspected – but the upshot can be profound: trust becomes all the more sacred. Because of the nature of her work, Poitras is put into the position of a confidante. Perhaps that is why the filmmaker is able to channel so much, so movingly, from Goldin, unifying the personal and the political in a kind of communion.