All the Beauty and the Bloodshed: Holding philanthropists to account

After Oscar-winning biopic of Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras turns to campaigning artist Nan Goldin

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
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Director: Laura Poitras
Cert: 18
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Nan Goldin
Running Time: 2 hrs 2 mins

In 2018, Nan Goldin – award-winning no-wave artist, Bowery chronicler, and sometime drug addict – walked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an institution that has housed some of her own groundbreaking works. She was soon joined by a small mob in the Sackler wing of the museum, all crying out: “Temple of money!” and “Temple of greed!”

Security guards struggled to move the demonstrators as they lay down in a “die-in” protest.

The opening gambit of the new film from Oscar-winner Laura Poitras is a diving board into a maelstrom of political action, capitalist greed, arts-washing and the gloriously scuzzy era of New York history that yielded Goldin and her many daring contemporaries.

Goldin has a turbulent personal history, marred by prostitution and the suicide of her sister, Barbara, but a surgical procedure in 2015 sent her spiralling.


Post-op, she was given OxyContin to combat the pain, a prescription that soon became a debilitating addiction. Some lost years later, she kicked the habit, vowed to honour " those affected by this epidemic to make the personal political”, and set her sights on the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical moguls who made billions from the US opioid crisis.

An engaging story that draws on carefully curated archival footage and material that Goldin and two other activists filmed with P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) over two years, Poitras and editors Amy Foote, Joe Bini and Brian A Kates elegantly craft a far-reaching film from a great deal of chaos and rage.

An unexpected Golden Lion winner at the 79th Venice International Film Festival – where it beat out Saint Omer, Bones and All, Athena and more – Poitras’s biopic of Goldin is powered along by righteous fury: an engaging portrait of both the artist and her activism.

Three years after Goldin’s demonstration at the Met, the museum announced that it would be removing the Sackler name from seven of its exhibition spaces. The Tate Modern and the Louvre have also “...taken down the Sackler name from certain spaces”. Whatever that means.

“They have washed their blood money through the halls of museums and universities around the world,” argues Goldin.

She’s correct, of course.

But larger questions are not asked here, let alone answered. Do alternate good-guy billionaire philanthropists – capable of financing galleries, museums, and universities – exist? And how does one even begin to untangle the ethical issues at the dark heart of most contemporary art collections? Just ask the Greeks attempting to negotiate the return of the Elgin Marbles.

Following hundreds of lawsuits and years of damning revelations, the Sackler family used the bankruptcy of their company to protect themselves from facing civil liability.

They are still worth billions.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic