By C.J. Hirschfield
(March 10, 2023)
The documentary feature All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is actually three movies in one. Directed by 2015 Academy Award winner Laura Poitras (Citizenfour), the film explores the art, life, and political activism of internationally renowned artist Nan Goldin, whose story could not be more compelling. Through her photos, slideshows, interviews and video footage, we get a real sense of what inspired both her art and her activism.
First, her art. Considered radical at the time it was first presented, her work often explores LGBTQ subcultures, moments of intimacy, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and most recently, the opioid epidemic. Collections of her work are held by the most prestigious international museums.
Second, her life. Born into a middle-class suburban family with parents who embraced the qualities of “conformity, denial, and stigma,” she had a sister whose suicide profoundly affected her. Her parents hid the suicide to the world and claimed it didn’t happen. Goldin says that rejecting this sort of falsehood is the reason she takes pictures.
Her own life is fraught with drama—she lived in foster homes, engaged in shoplifting and prostitution, and was a victim of battery by a partner. But it was the experience of her own overdose, following a post-surgical prescription, that sparked her to create a movement to call out the Sackler family, whose opioid empire has resulted in over half a million American overdose deaths.
P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) specifically targets the Sackler family for manufacturing and distributing the drug Oxycontin through their corporation Purdue Pharma LP.
“Sacklers lie, people die” is the rallying cry used by P.A.I.N., as its members led a series of successful Act Up- inspired protests at international museums who have taken donations from the Sackler family, including the Guggenheim, the Louvre, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Tate.
The film offers us powerful visuals of the protests: empty prescription drug bottles strewn beside bodies of activists feigning death, a blizzard of torn up opioid prescriptions fluttering down from the top of the Guggenheim — images not typically seen in the world’s most prestigious museums. Goldin leverages her considerable artistic capital (many of the museums have, or will, feature her art), to great effect.
She’s a major name in the art world, and her message that museums “stop taking money from these corrupt, evil bastards” is one that has proved successful throughout the world. The goal is to “get their names off the walls,” and the success rate has been impressive. Four years after P.A.I.N. began its efforts, the Met removed the Sackler name.
One of the film’s most arresting scenes comes as Sackler family members are required by the Federal Court to witness victims’ testimony as a requirement of their bankruptcy deal. The pain and suffering conveyed by the family members of overdose victims is both heartbreaking and anger-producing.
Goldin cites the failure of Congress, the Justice Department, and bankruptcy court to call the Sacklers out for their “crimes.” Referring to P.A.I.N.’s efforts, she says “This is the only place they’re being held accountable, and we did it.”
All The Beauty and Bloodshed can be rented or purchased on various platforms.
It premieres on HBO March 19, 2023.
Nan Goldin is an American photographer known for her deeply personal and candid portraiture. Goldin’s intimate images act as a visual autobiography documenting herself and those closest to her, especially in the LGBTQ community and the heroin-addicted subculture. Her opus The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1980–1986) is a 40-minute slideshow of 700 photographs set to music that chronicled her life in New York during the 1980s. The Ballad was first exhibited at the 1985 Whitney Biennial, and was made into a photobook the following year. “For me it is not a detachment to take a picture. It’s a way of touching somebody—it’s a caress,” she said of the medium. “I think that you can actually give people access to their own soul.” Born Nancy Goldin on September 12, 1953 in Washington, D.C., the artist began taking photographs as a teenager to cherish her relationships with those she photographed, as well as a political tool to inform the public of issues that were important to her. Influenced both by the fashion photography of Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin she saw in magazines, as well as the revelatory portraits of Diane Arbus and August Sander, Goldin captured herself and her friends at their most vulnerable moments, as seen in her seminal photobook Nan Goldin: I’ll Be Your Mirror (1996). In 2018, she collaborated with the clothing brand Supreme by including three of her photographs, Misty and Jimmy Paulette in a taxi, NYC (1991), Kim in Rhinestones, Paris (1991), and Nan as a dominatrix, Cambridge, MA (1978) on their spring/summer collection. The artist currently lives and works between New York, NY, and Paris, France. Today, Goldin’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, among others.was born in Washington, D.C. in 1953 and lives and works in New York, Berlin and Paris. Her work has been the subject of two major touring retrospectives: one organized in 1996 by the Whitney Museum of American Art and another, in 2001, by the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. Recent solo exhibitions include Sirens, Marian Goodman Gallery, London, UK, 2019; The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Tate Modern, London, UK, 2019; Fata Morgana, Château d’Hardelot, Condette, France, 2018; Weekend Plans, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, 2017; Nan Goldin, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME, USA, 2017; The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, 2016. Nan Goldin has been the recipient of numerous awards including most recently the Ruth Baumgarte Award, Sprengel Museum, Hannover, 2019 and The Centenary Medal, London, 2018. Goldin was received into the French Legion of Honour in 2006 and awarded the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in 2007. (Bio courtesy of artnet where selected photos can be viewed.) Read more at The Women’s Studio.
Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker who won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Citizenfour. She won an Independent Spirit Award for My Country, My Country, which was released in the U.S. by Zeitgeist Films and broadcast on PBS’s P.O.V. Both My Country, My Country and her Creative Capital project The Oath are part of a trilogy titled “The New American Century,” about post-9/11 America. These were followed by Risk (2016), The Year of the Everlasting Storm( 2021) and Terror Contagion (2021) Poitras is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and Peabody Award. Before making documentaries, she worked as a professional chef. Poitras lives in New York City and teaches documentary filmmaking at Yale University. Poitras’ Praxis Fims website.
“I began working on All the Beauty and the Bloodshed with Nan in 2019, two years after she decided to leverage her power as an artist to expose the billionaire Sackler family’s criminal culpability in fueling the overdose crisis. The process of making this film was deeply intimate. Nan and I met on weekends in her living room and talked.
I was first drawn to the present-day horror story of a billionaire family knowingly creating an epidemic, and then funneling money into museums in exchange for tax write-offs and naming galleries. But as we talked, I realised this was only one part of the story I wanted to tell, and that the core of the film is Nan’s art, photography, and the legacies of her friends and sister Barbara. A legacy of people escaping America.”
Filmmaker Laura Poitras talks about documenting the life, art and activism of photographer Nan Goldin HERE.
“Two Artists, One Devastating Film” by Esther Zuckerman in the New York Times.
“I’ve seen how overdose wrecks lives – why have the Sackler family members behind OxyContin avoided all charges?” by Laura Poitras for The Guardian.
Listen to Terry Gross interviews Nan Goldin on Fresh Air.
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed Is So Much More Than a Portrait of an Artist” by Hayley Maitland in Vogue.
Laura Poitras Talks Profit Participation In Documentary Filmmaking, Taking on Big Pharma for The Hollywood Reporter.
Laura Poitras, artist Nan Goldin, P.A.I.N. activists Harry Cullen & Megan Kapler, and lawyer Mike Quinn discuss their NYFF60 Centerpiece selection All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, moderated by NYFF Artistic Director Dennis Lim, at the press conference.
C.J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel and advocated on behalf of the industry. A former writer for Film Month, she also penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years and now writes features and reviews for EatDrinkFilms. C.J. holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.
Hirschfield currently serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.
C.J. says, “A good documentary takes us places we never could never have imagined, and changes the way we see the world.”