Vague Visages’ second All the Beauty and the Bloodshed review contains minor spoilers. Laura Poitras’ 2022 documentary film features Nan Goldin, David Armstrong and Marina Berio. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Citizenfour Oscar-winner Laura Poitras profiles photographer and activist Nan Goldin in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. Like its talented subject, the movie cannot be confined to a single category or story arc. Along with a penetrating, candid examination of Goldin’s career trajectory, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed spends considerable time on the artist’s efforts to hold Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family accountable for the overprescribing of opioids including OxyContin. Poitras artfully covers lots of territory in the documentary, which received the Golden Lion, the Venice International Film Festival’s highest honor, in September of 2022.
Goldin may not be a household name outside the art world, but her searing and confessional pictures are among the most influential to emerge from New York City’s post-Stonewall cultural explosion. Documenting friends, acquaintances and her own intimate relationships, Goldin profiled members of the gay and transgender community with the eye of an insider. Her interests also led to photos of the Bowery-based drug scene and images of the vibrant post-punk and new and no wave music worlds. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’s center section examines in detail “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” Goldin’s protean slideshow.
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Goldin crosses paths with many other aspiring creative artists during her most fecund years, and Poitras carefully organizes the guest book by allowing some notable faces to flutter and flicker by and others to take up more space and greater prominence. The deeper Poitras dives in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, the greater the realization that so many of Goldin’s peers lost their lives to AIDS or drug overdoses. Goldin once wrote of her late friend and collaborator Cookie Mueller: “She was the starlet of the Lower East Side: a poetess, a short-story writer, she starred in John Waters’s early movies. She was sort of the queen of the whole downtown social scene.”
Mueller may personify and characterize the moment in time that Goldin so memorably captured, but Poitras devotes just as much or more attention to David Wojnarowicz, who was recently memorialized in Chris McKim’s vital, feature-length portrait, Wojnarowicz (2020). Goldin’s curatorial role in the “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing” exhibition in 1989 is highlighted by the director for more than one thematically resonant meaning — one can marvel at the way Poitras connects the dots between ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) to illuminate the intersection of politics and art that will factor in different stages of Goldin’s life.
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Seen planning and carrying out the civil disobedience designed to force prominent museums to remove the Sackler name from buildings, wings, galleries and collections, Goldin leverages her own prominence to bring about change. Like many autobiographically inclined artists, she preserved and archived her own family history. The tragedy of older sister Barbara, who took her own life in 1965 when Nan was 11, haunts All the Beauty and the Bloodshed as profoundly and poignantly as any of the photographs the subject would go on to make. Goldin’s openness and forthrightness extends to her advocacy on behalf of so many others who, like herself, struggled or continue to struggle with opioid addiction.
Greg Carlson (@gcarlson1972) is a professor of communication studies and the director of the interdisciplinary film studies minor program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is also the film editor of the High Plains Reader, where his writing has appeared since 1997.
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