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The Crack Magazine


All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Director: Laura Poitras

Art, activism and Situationist protest collide in this thematically rich and compelling documentary profile of photographer and activist, Nan Goldin from filmmaker Laura ‘Citizen Four’ Poitras.

The picture is broken into two distinct but interlocking threads. One is an account of Goldin’s role as the founder and figurehead of PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) an action group founded in 2018 campaigning, via staged ‘happenings’, to highlight the role of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid crisis, specifically the role of the Sackler family who, via their company Purdue Pharma, hawked their addictive opioid painkiller OxyContin to medical practitioners who in turn distributed them to the public to ruinous effect. The Sacklers art-washed their reputation by making high profile donations to various renowned art galleries including the Tate, the Louvre and the Guggenheim.

The other thread traces Goldin’s childhood in the stifling suburbs and her relationship with her ill-fated sister, Barbara, a free spirit born too early to enjoy the liberalising 60s who committed suicide when Nan was just eleven. Escaping her repressive parents, the bisexual Goldin made her way to Boston in the early 70s, then New York, where she worked a variety of jobs, including acting in independent movies, stripping, and she reveals here, prostitution. She recorded her immersion in the New York underground via frank photographs of her fellow demimonde dwellers, junkies, drag queens, and addicts. A selection of her pictures was shown in her hit 1985 exhibition ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’. All the while Goldin was struggling with addiction.

As wittily mischievous and, as it turns out, efficacious, the protests are, particularly one in the Guggenheim where activists rain down prescriptions confetti-style on attendees, the cutaways to PAIN’s activities distract from the more compelling study of Goldin’s journey as an artist. Nevertheless, the climactic scene in which Goldin encounters confronts uncomfortable-looking members of the Sackler family via a zoom hearing delivers some degree of closure as the two threads converge and the theme of negligent families comes to the fore.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is released on 27th January

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm

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