All The Beauty And The Bloodshed – Review

Release Date – 27th January 2023, Cert – 18, Run-time – 2 hours 2 minutes, Director – Laura Poitras

Documentary looking at the life of photographer Nan Goldin through her own pictures, alongside her present day activism against pharmaceutical company Perdue and the Sackler family in relation to the opioid crisis.

“Photography was always a way to walk through fear… It gave me a reason to be there” says photographer Nan Goldin about her life and work. Both encapsulating progressive boundary-pushing attitudes, particularly in regards to her work focusing on the LGBTQ+ community. “Survival was an art” she later states in regards to the creation of a safe space being created for gay people when the streets of Boston became too dangerous. Her activism in the present day is just as passionate as director Laura Poitras follows Goldin and other members of PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) protest within prominent museums around the world against the money going into them from the Sackler family. The family who were behind the likes of pharmaceutical company Perdue during the opioid crisis, leading to the deaths of thousands.

In a number of ways there’s almost two different films here. One about Goldin’s life and the other about her current activism. The latter takes more of a standard documentary form while the former sees us taken through a number of Goldin’s slideshows and pictures from over the years, with narration provided by herself recounting her memories – a number of which are acknowledged to have not been much talked about. Both styles work well and indeed have plenty of interest, however occasionally the feeling that you’re watching what could be two different films comes into play, largely in the bridges between each section.


However, the film rarely drops and disengages. Even as its run-time begins to slightly show. It keeps your interest and engagement thanks to the unflinching way in which it treats its subject and the various points that crop up within her life. It’s this attitude which also allows things to keep moving and stay relatively consistent, particularly when it comes to the aforementioned bridges between chapters. There’s almost always some form of development to connect and engage with, particularly within Goldin’s life and the people she finds herself surrounded and pushed by – “I only escape because of my friends” she claims amongst a series of pictures she fondly reminisces over.

Through the work of Poitras and the editing team the cutting attitude of the film is emphasised by a stirring nature to the protest scenes, particularly emotional when you see the push and hear the stories behind the cause, and indeed fascination within strands relating to the likes of censorship – a particular element which moves along with great pace, helped by just how much is shown within it. It’s thanks to moments such a this, and the general force of the film as a whole which fully embraces the bold, boundary-pushing life of Goldin and a number of people who have been part of her life and career. While occasionally things may feel somewhat split both core strands and focuses continue to have strength with plenty to engage and interest.

While it may occasionally feel like its telling two stories, with two different styles, All The Beauty And The Bloodshed powers through with plenty of unflinching stories and details to engage and interest. Fully embracing the bold, boundary-pushing life of its central figure.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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