The documentarian Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour,” “Risk“), in collaboration with her subject Nan Goldin, covers a lot about, among other things, the way money affects both the personal and the political, whether you choose to separate them or not, in this surprising and moving documentary. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” chronicles Goldin’s life in art, serving up significant and vivid portions of her photography, which she exhibited in 1985 as the slide show with music called The ballad of sexual addiction, which made her name. Since then, her work has been exhibited in prominent and prestigious museums. She did protean work as an AIDS activist in the past, and a close call with a painkiller overdose—not to mention the deaths of several friends and spirals of addiction—forced her to take a closer look at an uncomfortable fact.
That is, many of the prominent and prestigious museums that displayed Goldin’s work had received significant contributions from the Sackler family. The same Sackler family who made their money by collaborating with Big Pharma (the corporate connections are such that the term here must serve as shorthand) to create a worldwide crisis of opiate addiction. Among other things, by seriously underestimating the addictive properties of his wonder drug OxyContin.
So while Goldin never shed her brand of activism (her work, intimate and autobiographical as it is, is in many ways a powerful statement about the societal marginalization of women and LGBTQ people), she finds herself, with some initial sheepishness, holding it back and staging protest events at institutions that have somehow supported her existence.
As it happened, she chose an opportune time to do so. Her mini-movement coincided with much journalistic curiosity about Sackler’s money. Patrick Radden Keefe, who worked on an investigative piece about the Sacklers for The New Yorker, sheepishly recalls here that in his first contact with Goldin he was a little dismissive of her and wished her luck with her project. But their combined efforts created a reinforcement. Subsequent civil lawsuits have required the Sacklers to pay monumental fines (which, it is noted with no small irony near the end, have little or no effect on the family members’ remaining personal fortunes), and yes, museums are removing the family’s name. of certain spaces hitherto dedicated to/by them.