‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ review: A nonfiction gem about photographer and activist Nan Goldin | Nation

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‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ review: A nonfiction gem about photographer and activist Nan Goldin | Nation

When director Laura Poitras’ documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” took the top prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival, in a field of eligible titles including “Tár” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” there were accusations of conflicting virtue signals. thrown here, in some cases even by people who actually managed to see it.

Well, those people weren’t right. The film is a gem – a supple, unpredictably structured and deeply personal portrait of its primary subject, the photographer, visual artist and activist Nan Goldin.

And that is not all. This portrait belongs to a much larger societal landscape. Poitras’ film naturally expands through Goldin’s own history and her more recent history of both addiction and effective public dissent, as “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” becomes a story of the opioid epidemic (about 500,000 dead in the U.S. alone) ), which was and is a man-made tragedy.

That tragedy made Purdue Pharma, and its controlling family, the art-loving, image-conscious Sackler clan, extraordinarily wealthy thanks to OxyContin and other insidious popular painkillers. The Sacklers never went to jail, although they agreed to pay nearly $6 billion in apology and epidemic “restrictions” funds. Once Purdue concludes bankruptcy proceedings, it will transform into Knoa Pharma. The Sacklers will remain legally protected from future litigation related to the public health crisis that has fueled its coffers for so long.

That paragraph might suggest that Poitras is satisfied with a blunt anti-eavesdropping capitalist tract. She doesn’t, and “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” isn’t. It’s something much more interesting — Poitras and her creative team have interwoven two, even three stories to create a tale of an American saga that spans the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st.

Goldin tells, and her photographs of Lower Manhattan, before, during and after the worst of the AIDS epidemic help tell the story. Goldin, who grew up in a strained, secretive middle-class Jewish family, in Swampscott and Lexington, Massachusetts, was 11 when she lost her older sister to suicide. As a photographer, years later, after moving to New York, Goldin made her mark with a portfolio full of stark, beautifully observed moments captured among her overlapping circle of friends. Models, junkies, drag queens, musicians, observer-participants like herself – anything and everything seemed possible, yet shadowed by danger.

In recent years, Goldin’s artwork and photography have been acquired by a prestigious group of major museums – several funded, handsomely, by the Sacklers. After getting through her own opioid crisis by the skin of her teeth, Goldin helped found the pushback organization PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) in 2017. Her protests resulted in what some see as frustratingly symbolic justice, with the Sackler sponsorship name coming off one museum wall, then another, and another. Poitras’s calmly poignant, multiple account of her ceaselessly reinventing subject explores the nuances of guilt, along with the cost of a thirsty, dangerous artistic life in a certain time and place. It is a very full experience.

It wouldn’t be half as effective if Poitras had treated Goldin as some kind of Bowery saint or shining-armor paragon of righteousness. She is a complicated person, an artist and a woman who has spent much of her adulthood figuring out life, love, the violence of jealousy, her parents’ treatment of her sister and much more. The faint hint of sacrilege that sometimes clouded Poitras’ fine Oscar-winning Edward Snowden doc, “Citizenfour,” is nowhere to be found here. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is one of the very best of 2022.

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‘ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED’

4 stars (out of 4)

No rating (language, drug use, violent images)

Running time: 1:57

How to watch: In theaters

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