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All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Photograph: Altitude
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The art world, activism and the opioids crisis collide in this scathing takedown of America’s morally bankrupt Sackler family

Nan Goldin is angry. The artist-photographer, a landmark figure in the 1970s counterculture of New York, became an opioid addict when she was prescribed OxyContin for tendonitis in 2014. A few days later she was taking 15 pills a day and en route to an early grave.

She recovered but hundreds of thousands of her compatriots haven’t been as lucky. The company, Purdue Pharma, that injected this deadly prescription drug into the nation’s bloodstream made the morally corrupt Sackler family filthy rich. So the fact that it pumped its ill-gotten profits into reputation-washing via sponsorship of major galleries makes it all even more personal.

Laura Poitras’s gripping documentary distils that fury perfectly. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is part-candid biography, part-career retrospective and part-activism procedural. It’s full of fly-on-the-wall reportage of Goldin’s campaign to take down the corrupt, venal Sacklers. They are hateful people and you’re invited to share her righteous fury. ‘As long as there’s a jail,’ she spits, ‘they should be in it.’

The film follows Goldin and her co-campaigners at P.A.I.N. (‘Prescription Addiction Intervention Now’) as they try to make that happen. They plan and execute PR stunts at those Sackler-sponsored New York galleries. Poitras’s camera is there to capture a cloud of fake prescriptions that flutters down through the Guggenheim’s spiral ramps, stopping gallery-goers in their tracks. It’s a kind of agitprop art in itself, but with a purpose: a bid to rescue the art world from its collaboration with the devil.

Unlike Poitras’s hard-news docs about Julian Assange (Risk) and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Citizenfour), there’s a gentle, ruminative side here. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed intersplices footage of that gutsy activism with a glance back at Goldin’s difficult childhood and her later breakthrough as an artist. Her sister’s tragic suicide and her parents’ emotional absence in its aftermath are movingly addressed.

The Sacklers are hateful people and you’re invited to share her righteous fury

And Goldin’s own moody photographs couldn’t offer a better roadmap to the grimy but stupidly cool artquake days of New York in the 1970s and ’80s. Non-binary scenesters and musicians rub shoulders with artists and bi-curious bedfellows in celluloid prints and archive footage. There’s only faint connective tissue between those heady Stonewall-era days and the film’s contemporary narrative – beyond Goldin’s own journey from rabble-rouser to fired-up campaigner. But the personal recollections supercharge the doc with pathos and amp up the notion of an existential battle between Goldin and the Sacklers for the very soul of the art world.

If you’re looking for a more granular account of the Oxy epidemic and its perpetrators, Emmy-nominated miniseries Dopesick and investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe’s bestseller ‘Empire of Pain’ both have your back. But All the Beauty and the Bloodshed plots a slightly different kind of narrative: one that’s full of defiance and emotion. It’s encapsulated in a remarkable moment that sees the campaigners finally confronting the Sacklers with the consequences of their deeds. Worth the cinema admission on its own, it’s a reminder that there are no victims in Goldin’s world, just streetfighters.  

In UK cinemas Jan 27, 2023

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Laura Poitras
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