All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

There are many examples of cruel injustices, often inflicted by people intent on personal gain, at the expense of others’ pain. In so many instances, the ones inflicting pain go out of their way to “other” those who suffer as a result, stigmatizing them as somehow deserving of their pain.

Yesterday evening we saw the film All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. It’s a really powerful documentary that weaves together the life and career of the photographer Nan Goldin, the profound inhumanity in the response to HIV/AIDS and those who suffered and died from it, and opioid crisis prompted by the self-serving work of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family to flood the medical market with Oxycontin. Goldin, an award winning photographer whose work is displayed in many prominent museums around the world, focused much of her work on the LGBT subculture, primarily in New York City. She is also a founder of the advocacy group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.) which was instrumental in pushing museums and other cultural institutions to stop taking money from the Sackler family and also to remove the family’s name from exhibition halls.

The film depicts significant moments in Goldin’s personal life — most notably her sister’s suicide – alongside accounts of protests by groups like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) pushing for a humane and aggressive response to HIV/AIDS and P.A.I.N.’s efforts to hold the Sackler family accountable for the many deaths resulting from their heavy marketing of Oxycontin.

I can’t begin to capture the intricacies of the film here. But one crucial element holding accounts of the different struggles together is Goldin’s lifelong grappling with the suicide of her older sister Barbara. A quotation from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in Barbara’s pocketbook when she died captures much of the angst of the film.

Droll thing life is — that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of unextinguishable regrets.