All the Beauty and Bloodshed: Laura Poitras’ Powerful Portrait of Photographer Nan Goldin 

‘All the Beauty and Bloodshed’: Laura Poitras’ Powerful Portrait of Photographer-Activist Nan Goldin

The Venice competition entry from the Citizenfour Oscar winning director centers on photographer Goldin’s advocacy.


Poitras conducted audio interviews with Goldin over two years, and there are other talking heads.
But more than anything else, the film is truly defined by Goldin’s photos, slideshows, and voiceover narration of significant moments in her life. The events described are by turns harrowing and thrilling, but always shaped by sharp intelligence.

She describes her experience with OxyContin addiction, her dysfunctional upbringing, and her life on the fringes, spent in Boston’s gay clubs and low-rent Manhattan apartments.

Poitras excerpts the indie films of Bette Gordon and Vivienne Dick to evoke the scene. Goldin appears in the latter’s Liberty’s Booty (1980), shot at the brothel where she had done sex work.

It drew on the protest demonstrations of ACT-UP as a model for P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), the group that she formed in 2017, whose goals were to support people struggling with addiction and to hold the Sacklers accountable for the destructive and expensive addictive opioids.

She was able to shake the rich art industry with an article in Artforum that called out the Sacklers for their role in the health disaster.

At some of the world’s most revered museums, Goldin and fellow activists recited the “Temple of greed!” staging die-ins, throwing prescription bottles, and dumping prescription pages into the Guggenheim’s rotunda. They were acts of political outrage, which also had strong aesthetic elements.

Before OxyContin, Purdue was pushing Valium hard, targeting women’s domestic and familial anxieties. Goldin points her finger at powerful art-world philanthropists and their ill-gotten riches.

The story of Goldin’s growth as an artist and activist are interweaved with the tragic tale of her sister, who committed suicide.

 The trauma from which Goldin is still unable to recover is the fate of her free-spirited sister, who was failed by their parents and the healthcare system before she died.  Goldin’s older sister, Barbara, was a “free-spirited,” and “rebellious nonconformist.” Their parents and the doctors they consulted managed to silence Barbara and her excruciating pain with the “simple” label of mental illness. Goldin believes that her parents had “no business having children.”

In The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, the 1985 slideshow and 1986 book, perceived by critics as Goldin’s masterpiece, she included self-portraits that showed her bruised from brutal battering by her boyfriend.

In her focused action, she’s effective in pressuring some museums to cut their Sackler ties. Poitras captures virtual confrontation, part of Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy hearing, in which Goldin and people affected by OxyContin confront the Sackler family.

“You grow up,” Goldin says in the film, “being told, ‘That didn’t happen,” but it did happen.

End Note:

The film premiered on September 3, 2022, at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, where it was awarded by the jury (headed by Julianne Moore) the Golden Lion making it the second documentary (following Sacro GRA in 2013) to win the top prize at Venice.