Review of “All the beauty and bloodshed”: personnel policy

For director Laura Poitras, All the beauty and bloodshed represents a kind of departure. Having centered films on people ranging from a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden to The oath to Edward Snowden in Citizenfour and Julian Assange in Risk, his latest documentary is about an artist: the legendary photographer Nan Goldin. But there is still a strong political dimension to the film, as Goldin was a major force in bringing down the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, one of the global pharmaceutical companies largely responsible for the opioid epidemic. in the USA.

It’s a deeply personal mission for Goldin, as someone who found herself addicted to OxyContin for a time until she nearly died of an overdose. Goldin’s activism, however, is, according to the film, born not just from his contact with the opioid crisis, but from a life of dealing with mental illness, addiction and premature death to varying degrees. various. All the beauty and bloodshed turns out to be a film as bifurcated as its title: it’s half a biographical portrait of Goldin told in his own words, half a chronicle of his current activism by highlighting the Sacklers’ ruthless pressure on these addictive drugs. unsuspecting public.

Poitras divided the film into seven chapters, each devoting approximately half of each section to a period in Goldin’s life, with the other half returning to contemporary times to depict an episode in his campaign against the Sacklers. The back-and-forth structure makes the film somewhat unwieldy, like two different movies coexisting uncomfortably into one. Poitras doesn’t quite convince us that every biographical detail Goldin offers us about his life necessarily relates to his direct actions against the Sacklers and his advocacy for harm reduction.

And yet, relevant or not, the details themselves are compelling, especially as Goldin tells it to us in a slideshow format reminiscent of his own public presentations of The Ballad of Sex Addiction and other seminal photo series of hers. Goldin covers everything from her own hellish suburban upbringing, to discovering both a welcoming queer community in Provincetown and her own bisexuality, to her personal and professional struggles while living in downtown New York, the ravages of the AIDS crisis which she witnessed in the 1980s.

The warmth, sadness and occasional anger with which Goldin recounts these experiences is poignant in itself. Moreover, hearing Goldin speak openly not just about his past, but also how his experiences have affected his candid, intimate, and vulnerable artistry provides an illuminating window into his photographic artistry, of which the film offers a generous on-screen sample. . As a portrait, All the beauty and bloodshed accomplishes the goal of any documentary worthy of its genre by shedding insightful light on what informs an artist’s vision.

It was during scenes in the film detailing the injustices of the Sacklers and Goldin’s crusade against them—from public protests at arts organizations still bearing Sackler’s name to the formation of his organization PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now)—that the film most resembles that of Poitras. previous work. His first-hand access to the staging of, say, his band’s 2018 protest at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at what was previously known as the Sackler Wing exudes the life-or-death immediacy that The oath and Citizenfour had in spades. The same goes for a shorter passage in which various members of PAIN, as well as New York journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, find themselves stalked by a mysterious figure who they believe has been sent by Purdue Pharma to spy on them ( a claim that Purdue has strongly denied, of course).

But All the beauty and bloodshed shows the fearless Poitras stepping into new emotional terrain. The film’s title comes from a report a doctor filed on Goldin’s sister, Barbara, who committed suicide at the age of 18 after many years in and out of mental hospitals. To some extent, it speaks to the broad and inclusive way the rebellious Barbara saw the world, a perspective that was mistakenly considered a mental illness during the more repressive 1960s, and which Goldin spent her whole life trying. to honor. Based on this loving and powerful cinematic portrayal, it’s a perspective Poitras feels close to, making this film arguably the closest to a personal manifesto she’s offered in her filmography to date.


Director: Laura Poitras Distributer: Neon Runtime: 113 minutes Evaluation: NR Year: 2022

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