All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Laura Poitras’ explicit and dangerous look at photography and the opioids that nearly killed Nan Goldin.

“SACKLERS LIE AND PEOPLE DIE!” “SACKLERS LIE AND PEOPLE DIE!” “SACKLERS LIE AND PEOPLE DIE” “SACKLERS LIE AND PEOPLE DIE!” is how the documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” opens. People throw pill bottles in water at art museums and lie on the ground, expressing their hatred for the drug that kills people. They present their own style of art, which shows off the realism.

Director Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour,” “My Country, My Country”) paints a picture or photographs, in this case, that represents how hobbies and addictions can affect people, and how they can warn others from making the same mistakes.

A mother, for example, regretted how she made sure her son was taking his pills to help cure his pain. She feels she played a part in his death, and has to speak her mind about the dangers of this drug.

We meet the photographer Nan Goldin, who became an activist after surviving her opioid addiction. She started the organization “P.A.I.N.” (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), which is dedicated to bringing the Sackler family to justice for distributing this horrible drug through their company Purdue Pharma LP.

This doc also focuses on her life as a person, when her sister committed suicide, when she fell in love with photography, and the themes she’s expressed in her work. They represent LBGT, moments of intimacy, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and opioids.

Her slideshow “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” for example, represented the power that men had over women. When she showed photographs of her friend having sex, she had to show pictures of herself getting it on. This is an explicit work of art. And even if we can’t always comprehend what goes on in this world, we still see it through Goldin’s perspective with a chilling sense.

One of the friends she’s made along her journey was Cookie Mueller, an actress from John Waters’ earlier films like “Pink Flamingos” and “Female Trouble.” She past away in 1989 from AIDS-related pneumonia.

Between November 1989 and January 1990, Goldin organized a group show at Artists Space in New York, known as “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing,” which was dedicated to help fight against the AIDS virus.

Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” represents both sides of the coin. It represents how Goldin entered the world of movies, sex, and photography, while showing the evils of her life. She’s dealt with sexist slurs, violence, and the drugs that nearly destroyed her completely. The photos she’s taken of herself surviving such violence reminded her not to go back to that dark side.

When we do see the Sacklers in the interview stage, via zoom chat, we see how the victims were able to speak for the dead and for themselves. Goldin’s words about their actions and reactions is no exception.

Poitras delivers one of the year’s most important documentaries, and uses the right real-life character to express her art and hatred towards the drug and the Sacklers. And it’s not just about drugs, but also sexual abuse and photography, and how certain things can accumulate. Let these women speak their minds, because they’re smart people, too. They didn’t call “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” for nothing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Categories: Documentary

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