When a documentary triumphs at a festival such as Venice in the competition of the whole wonder of excellent feature films, then it means that it is a really special work. And “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” by Oscar winner Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) certainly is. At the same time, an activist and biographical documentary, a multilayered and poignant story not only about today’s America, but also about the counterculture, underground scene of the eighties, told through the main protagonist, Nan Goldin. The works of this photographer can be found today in all the world’s leading museums, and what should have been a classic activist documentary in which the author follows the activities of protesters against the family of the owner of the notorious pharmaceutical company Purdue, turned into something completely different.
When Poitras began filming the activities of the organization, which arose out of anger against the Sackler family, who patented and released the opioid painkiller OxyContin, which has killed half a million Americans to date, she realized that Goldin had a real treasure with him. And not only in the incredible archive of her works, but this woman who was herself addicted to OxyContin was a participant in a scene that survived another epidemic more than thirty years earlier. The AIDS epidemic that literally ravaged the New York underground scene.
In the end, Poitras combined a story of social activism and a biographical story in an amazing way and got an amazing documentary that was nominated for an Oscar for a reason. She structured the Poitras film into seven chapters, each of which begins with sequences of photographs from Goldin’s life and slowly transitions into the story of her organization’s fight against Sackler. And smartly, Poitras avoided wasting time telling stories about the opioid problem in America, because in recent years, the series “Dopesick” was filmed and, for example, the feature film, while Alex Gibney filmed the documentary “Crime of the Century”. Anyone who is interested in who the Sacklers are and how the opioid or opium-based painkillers crisis came about should take a look at these contents.
Poitras focused primarily on the influence that the Sackler family has in the world, especially in the world of art. We see here that there is almost no larger and more reputable museum in the world that does not take donations from families who in this way partially try to clear their conscience, but they try harder to show themselves as philanthropists, benefactors and wash their name in marketing. Numerous world museums also have wings bearing the name Sackler, the name directly responsible for the death of half a million Americans. All the hypocrisy, hypocrisy and cynicism of today’s society where almost everyone receives this blood money and pretends to be silly is shown brilliantly, but we also see how the efforts of the Nan Goldin organization are having an effect.
In good part also due to the fact that her photographs are now integral parts of most of the leading American museums, the same ones that take the Sacklers’ money, but we will understand that it was not always like that. And today, this woman in her late sixties leads us parallel through her life and through the life of the New York underground scene from the mid-seventies until the beginning of the nineties. It was a time when she was making her way and when her photos were of no interest to almost anyone, and here we see what the New York underground looked like. A scene created deep in the underground that consisted of members of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals who almost created a world for themselves.
Goldin preserved the existence of that scene in her photographs and films in which she shot and acted, and her life story and all that she experienced is equally incredible. It is a film about a woman who fought against those stronger and more powerful than herself all her life, who shunned conformity and often followed the most difficult possible path, but all that time she remained true to herself. And the fight against Sackler, the hypocrisy of mainstream art, into which she herself eventually entered, is only an obvious continuation of her life’s journey, which is brilliantly captured in this controversial and provocative documentary.