“Even if you don’t unleash the memories, the effect is there in your body.”Nan Goldin
There are two strands to Laura Poitras’s arresting documentary about artist Nan Goldin: the impact of her childhood on her artistic work, and her protest work against the Sackler family who exacerbated and profited from the opioid crisis. The former is the most compelling, exploring the impact of early trauma and how her focus on nonconformists (like the LGBT community and sex workers) arose from the safety she felt with those groups, followed by a drive to remove the social stigma from the lifestyles of her friends. Her most celebrated work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, featured intimate portraits of these friends, most of whom she lost to the AIDS epidemic. These sequences are narrated predominantly with Goldin’s own recollections from the present day. By interspersing her provocative body of work with her current protest activities, Poitras grounds the “pure” artistic expression with the urgency of practical activism. As the Sacklers laundered their name through the art world, Goldin used her own prominence to challenge galleries to refuse their patronage. This can begin to feel repetitive, with little insight into the planning behind the protests, yet it does provide some level of catharsis to Goldin’s story as the Sacklers are finally forced to listen to families of victims lost to opioid addicition. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed provides both a retrospective of Goldin’s work and an incisive personal lens through which to view it.