The Blame Frame

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Director: Laura Poitras

Running Time: 2 hours and 2 minutes

Festival: Durban International Film Festival (DIFF2023)


Even before viewers watch film maker Laura Poitras Oscar nominated documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, they should read the New Yorker journalist’s superbly researched book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe who gives a detailed account of the complex issues surrounding the extensive opioid crisis that gripped America for the first 20 years of the 21st century.

Poitras chooses to follow the bohemian life of photographer and activist Nan Goldin who herself got addicted to OxyContin and then once recovered launched a successful smear campaign again the Sackler Family who owned the Pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma who made and distributed the highly addictive strong pain killer OxyContin, which is a derivative of heroin.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed focuses on Goldin’s smear campaign, who as an artist who had her work hung in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries from The Met to the Guggenheim and the Louvre, attacked the immensely wealthy Sackler’s families philanthropic efforts of donating huge amounts of money to galleries in New York, London and Paris with the proviso that the cultural institution name a wing of the gallery after the Sackler’s.

With a brilliant title, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, documentarian Laura Poitras makes her position clear that she is on the side of Nan Goldin and does not maintain an objective gaze but instead scandalizes the actual smear campaign which was both riveting and explosive as Nan Goldin and her gang of activists stages protests in the Guggenheim throwing thousands of prescription OxyContin bottles down the spiral ramp of the Guggenheim, the most glamourous art gallery in New York. Goldin does a similar protest at the Louvre where the European wing of the Sackler’s who were based in London had donated large amounts of money.

Laura Poitras does do a full comprehensive historical biography of Nan Goldin from her counterculture days as an emerging photographer in New York surrounded by fringe film makers and queer artists to her own addiction struggles and to the scourge of the AIDS crisis in the late 1980’s which nearly wiped out that entire counter-culture community.

Ultimately what Poitras does do is paint the immensely clever and secretive Sackler clan as aloof billionaires who had invented a drug which was abused by millions of Americans and many died, while not accepting any responsibility for how they had contributed to the Opioid epidemic from 2000 to 2020, while vastly benefiting from the immense profits made by their Pharmaceutical company.

The faces of Kathe and Richard Sackler, some of the heirs of the vast wealth of the Sackler clan, as appearing cold and unsympathetic at the end of the documentary when the family is deposed virtually in 2020 to appear before the families of the victims who died during this crisis, paints the family that privately owned Purdue Pharma as completely unsympathetic, which they were.  The Sackler’s did not acknowledge guilt or accountability but through the efforts of Nan Goldin and her gang of protesters, years of philanthropy have been stripped at some of the finest cultural institutions in the world as the Sackler name was erased from the esteemed Art World.

As a documentary film maker, Laura Poitras does a superb job of bringing the opioid crisis to light and how the once influential Sackler family lost their reputation but not their wealth. All The Beauty and the Bloodshed is a fascinating if slightly one sided documentary which is tangential in parts but illuminating in other.

While the complex ethics of pharmaceutical distribution is largely untouched in this documentary, the focus squarely remains on the Sackler’s enormous contribution to the World of Art and their untimely undoing by a spiralling opioid crisis and Federal litigation. See this documentary in conjunction with reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s brilliant non-fiction book, to gain the full complex history of the Sackler family and the opioid crisis in America. 

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is a fascinating tale of counterculture flamboyance and protest versus corporate greed and murky philanthropy to some of the most influential art galleries in the World: The Louvre, the Guggenheim, The Tate and the Met. Highly recommended viewing.

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