Now Reading
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed Review

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed Review

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, the latest film from Oscar-winning director Laura Poitras, comprises of two main strands. Each would constitute a solid documentary in its own right, but woven together, they create something deeper and more interesting.

The first – and biggest – strand is the biographical portrait of American photographer Nan Goldin. We learn about her troubled childhood in the Boston suburbs during the 1950s and 60s, where her repressed parents struggled to look after her older sister Barbara, who wrestled with mental health issues and would commit suicide before Nan reached her teens. Seeing the way her parents approached Barbara, sending her to institutions and hiding her away rather than trying to help her, left a lifelong mark on Nan and her art.

She left her unhappy home as soon as she could, and found a new one in the LGBT communities of Boston and, later, New York City. Her relationships, particularly with drag queens, fuelled her photography, and soon she’d made a name for herself as one of America’s premier outsider artists. And when the AIDS crisis struck in the 1980s, giving Nan a horrifying front row seat as it tore through the lives of those she’d come to hold most dear, her calling as an activist was solidified.

The second strand of AtBatB follows the thread of her activism in the present day. Her own battle with opioid addiction inspires a campaign against the billionaire Sackler family, who pushed and profited from a drug that they knew to be deadly, and received a farcically meagre punishment in return. Knowing that the Sacklers have achieved much of their renown from their philanthropy towards art museums, and have galleries named for themselves all over the world, Nan and activist group P.A.I.N (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) set about staging a series of elaborate artistic protests demanding the removal of their name from the prestigious institutions. With the Sacklers willing to extend their endless resources against Nan and P.A.I.N, it proves to be a formidable fight.

There’s a valid argument to be made that Poitras’ bifurcated approach to AtBatB has a dilutory effect, especially in regard to the Sackler-focused portion. There are sources of intrigue that go largely unexplored (the revelation that the Sacklers have been trying to intimidate Nan and the group by having them followed fizzles out into nothing), and we never really get to know the other members of P.A.I.N  beyond a surface level.

And yet, as a biographical documentary, Poitras’ film gets closer to the molten core of her subject than others with a more traditional structure might have done. We see time and again how she’s used her art as a way of shining a light and exposing wrongdoing, whether it be the failure of her parents to help her sister, Reagan to help AIDS victims, or the Sacklers to stop hawking their deadly drugs. However much she’s suffered over her long and colourful life, losing countless loved ones, facing addiction and abusive partners, she’s always managed to metabolise that pain into her work. Hers is art with a bloody, beating heart, and All the Beauty and the Bloodshed pays tribute to her in a fittingly complex, compelling way.


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.