Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour,” “Risk”), in collaboration with her subject Nan Goldin, uncovers much ground, including how money affects both the personal and the political, whether one chooses to separate them or not, in this surprising and moving documentary. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed chronicles Goldin’s artistic life, showing essential and living parts of her photography, which she exhibited as a slide show with music in 1985 The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which made her famous. Since then, her work has been exhibited in important and renowned museums. She’s done diverse work as an AIDS activist in the past, and a close encounter with a painkiller overdose — not to mention several friends’ spiraling deaths and addictions — forced her to investigate a troubling fact.
That is, many of the prominent and prestigious museums exhibiting Goldin’s work had accepted significant contributions from the Sackler family. The same Sackler family that made their money by collaborating with Big Pharma (the corporate affiliations are so vast that the term has to be used as an abbreviation here) in creating a global opiate addiction crisis. Among other things, by grossly underestimating the addictive properties of its miracle drug OxyContin.
So while Goldin never hung up her activism badge (her work, intimate and autobiographical as it is, is in many ways a powerful statement about the social marginalization of women and LGBTQ people), she finds herself with initial embarrassment as to how she tacks it up and staging protests in institutions that have supported her livelihood in some way.
She happened to choose a good time to do this. Their mini-movement coincided with much journalistic curiosity about the Sacklers’ money. Patrick Radden Keefe, who worked for the on an investigative article on the Sacklers New YorkerHe recalls here, embarrassed, that when he first met Goldin he treated her slightly dismissively and wished her the best of luck with her project. But their combined efforts created a reinforcement. Subsequent civil court cases have required the Sacklers to pay monumental fines (which, as it is noted with no small irony towards the end, have little to no impact on the remaining personal fortune of family members) and yes, museums are removing the family’s name from certain rooms that were previously dedicated to them/by them.