Documentaries have had an incredible year. Some of the best films available in 2022 have come by way of documentary filmmaking. “All the Beauty and The Bloodshed” makes a strong case for being one of the best of the best, and that’s saying a lot considering the vast amount competition out there currently. As one of the last of my colleagues to finally be able to watch the film, I went in rather skeptical. I thought there was no possible way this one could be live up to the critical acclaim and precursor awards domination it had been receiving. I have never been more delighted to be proven wrong. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is an incredibly moving, deeply vulnerable exposé of art, addiction, and activism, and serves as a powerful voice for the marginalized and suffering.
It should be noted that “Bloodshed” is unrelenting in its honest depictions of life, justice, and death. The film is explicitly sexual simply by the nature of its subject and her work, and holds nothing back with addressing both sexuality, sexual expression, and addiction. It is both necessary and assaulting at times, and particularly jarring for those unfamiliar with Nan Golding and her work. Golding is perhaps one of the most vulnerable documentary subjects I’ve seen displayed in a long time. She holds nothing back from both her elaborating, difficult life as well as her very direct message of her activism and purpose for fighting the good fight. It is incredibly rare to see someone so willing to open every closet door of their past to contextualize their passion and purpose in the present. “Bloodshed” is as much about how Golding became the figure she is as it is about her activist work, and this kind of no holds barred access leaves viewers with a lot to take in all at once.
Directed by Laura Poitras (“Risk“) “All the Beauty and The Bloodshed” follows the life and work of Nan Golding, famed New York photographer whose artwork spans decades of recognition. As its secondary but deeply relevant companion story, the film also follows her activist work against the Sackler Family, owner of Purdue Pharma, whom she and many others believe to be responsible for the opioid crisis. Her work leads her to be a powerful voice against powerful people, and we watch as she leads the charge against their many art galleries across the world and her fight to have their names taken down. “Bloodshed” tells two stories simultaneously; the story of who Golding is and the story of her work against the Sacklers.
Poitras and Golding are so intertwined here, inextricably tying together the filmmaker with their subject in truly profound ways. Poitras seems both in awe of Golding and her life as well deeply empathetic to her struggles and current work to provide a voice to the voiceless. Poitras is very adept filmmaker, one who is able to express her deep connections to her work without ever injecting herself into the story. “Bloodshed” is very much about Golding, and then very much about the Sacklers and the opioid crisis. Both stories are wildly captivating, and both contain a deep resonance with anyone who has every experienced addiction, prejudice, and the desperate search for community. It is largely narrated by Golding herself, with Poitras allowing her subject to tell her own story in both her own voice and own artwork. It is shockingly open, with vulnerability being the only way I can find to describe Golding’s fearlessness in her pursuit of the Sacklers as well as letting anyone and everyone into her life.
People don’t often live up to the “I’m an open book” statement, but Golding is all of that and more, and both stories collide and become fascinating both separately and together. “Bloodshed” beautifully shows the juxtaposition of openness vs closed doors, as Golding’s willingness to go as far as she can clashes against the very privatized lives of the Sackler family whom she is diligent to expose in every way possible. Golding’s motivations are always clear, and her life and experiences strongly influence her work. She is unafraid to use her voice as a megaphone of recognition, drawing attention to her cause by allowing herself to be the bold face of it all. “Bloodshed” never stops being a fascinating and riveting journey through a life and fight, one that is sure to leave you both frustrated and hopeful by its conclusion.
Where “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” struggles is also where it shines. Both stories, both Golding’s life and her current work against the Sacklers are vital, but both stories don’t always come together as coherently as one would like. The story of Nan Golding and the story of Nan Golding vs The Sacklers provide a clashing of interest, as both stories feel like they should exist apart rather than coincide together. They are documentaries unto themselves, and though both feel like you can’t have one without the other, the editing has a tendency to shift the narrative right as one is getting good. Nan Golding has lived a life to be sure, and it’s worth the amount of time we spend with her retelling pivotal moments that led her to become the renown artist she is today. But her fight against the Sacklers is also worth the time, too. And there are quite a few times in the film where right as one narrative reaches a fever pitch of intrigue, it cuts away to tell another part of another story.
This isn’t enough to make “All the Beauty and The Bloodshed” any less captivating, and despite its conflicting stories remains one of the most engaging documentaries of the year. It deserves all of its praise, and sheds light on subjects that are more relevant now than ever. I felt a deep personal connection to this story, and anyone who has either struggled, is struggling, or knows someone who is struggling with addiction should absolutely see this film.
Golding is a revelation of both a survivor and a fighter, one who wears her battle scars with pride and uses everything she is to continue fighting for those in need.
“All the Beauty and The Bloodshed” is a must see, and call to action for us all. It ferocious and inspiring, and wonderful ode to what we can do when we never take no for an answer and make our voices heard. When we turn our pain and suffering into truth and action, we can accomplish anything.
“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is now playing in select theaters. You can watch the trailer below.