2022, Movies

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022, Laura Poitras)

This film tells the story of the (formerly controversial) photographer Nan Goldin through the lens of her crusade to convince the major art galleries of the world to stop receiving money from the Sacklers (the former owners of Purdue Pharma) and to remove the Sackler name from their institutions.

I read Empire of Pain so I was a little concerned that this movie would retread through the Sackler/Purdue story but, instead, it functions as much as an autobiography of Nan Goldin. As much of the movie is spent on her life and photography as is spent on the Sacklers. It’s an interesting way of looking at the opioid epidemic.

The film makes two interesting, fairly subtle points through Goldin’s story about the opioid epidemic.

The first point, which the film more dances around than outright says, is that the people seeking out opiates (whether prescription or not) are seeking help with trauma. Though Goldin never explicitly says this, it seems fairly clear that at least her non-prescription drug use was greatly due to a family tragedy when she was young. And so there’s an implicit message about the demand side of the opioid epidemic – that bad families helped cause the desire for illegal drugs.

The other interesting point is that the film sees comparisons between US federal government inaction during the AIDS crisis and US federal government inaction now. That’s not something I’d thought of but it’s an interesting idea and it’s relevant to the film because it’s clear one of the motivating factors for Goldin’s actions in museums is how powerless she felt during the worst of the AIDS crisis.

It’s a pretty interesting movie, giving you the story of an acclaimed photographer while also documenting the partial downfall of an extremely rich family.

My biggest nitpick is how episodic it is, with chapter headings but also numerous fades to black and music cues just ending abruptly.

But stylistic quibbles aside, it’s the best film I’ve seen at TIFF so far.


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