All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
2022, R, 117 min. Directed by Laura Poitras.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Dec. 16, 2022
Laura Poitras shook the world with her documentary Citizenfour in 2014, earning herself an Oscar for the film about whistleblower Edward Snowden. Poitras has a knack for revealing the layers in the thoughtful interviews she conducts; her subjects have an overwhelming trust in her and how she will portray and tell their stories. In All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Poitras unravels the life of a different type of subject: artist Nan Goldin, an activist who has been fighting for underrepresented communities for decades. Goldin is very open and raw with Poitras, sharing her life from her traumatic childhood to her current work as an activist against the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical company who had a large looming hand in the opioid epidemic’s high body count.
Goldin doesn’t hold back in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. She’s a fighter, not just for herself, but for countless others. Poitras folds in Goldin’s past with her present fight, sculpting a full-body portrait of her. Goldin starts her story by opening up about her sister’s suicide, a tragedy that painted her childhood and the catalyst that sent her into the foster system. From there, Goldin met the people that would change her life, opening her up to artists that welcomed her and shaped her worldview. She lived with passion, exploring and experiencing life with zeal and love, her young adult life like something out of the film Girlfriends – a young Jewish artist trying to find a space for her queer vision in the daunting landscape of New York City.
Poitras utilizes Goldin’s art as a timeline through her life, which gives the film a unique texture that totally encompasses her as an artist and portrays her worldview. Clicks from a projector cycle through her photographs, which are sexy, titillating, warm, but above all they portray a kindness to their subjects that are diverse in sexual orientations, preferences, and race.
Goldin’s activism shapes her art, showcasing the generous amount of time she gives to causes and people that are larger than life. Her history deeply impacts her present-day fight against the Sacklers, leading a radical group that seeks to take their power away from the fine art space, getting museum after museum to reject their donations, erasing their family name from these sacred institutions that honor, respect, and remember artists, some of whom, like Poitras, were victims of the opioid crisis.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a tremendous documentary, a striking piece of work that is so tender yet biting. There’s a sharpness to Poitras’ filmmaking that’s remarkably powerful, a film that’s sure to leave one breathless as the credits roll, an utterly effective snapshot of a woman who has dedicated her life to those who deserve a louder voice. It’s a film that’s simply stunning.