Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras has long focused on individuals and communities battling larger forces, most notably in her films Citizenfour (2014) and Risk (2016), about whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, respectively. In this variation on her David and Goliath fixation, Poitras profiles photographer and activist Nan Goldin, whose incisive body of work probes the tender underbelly of metropolitan society, finding in it the titular beauty and bloodshed. The documentary considers Goldin’s life and art but also hones in on P.A.I.N (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), which Goldin started after a several-year struggle with addiction to OxyContin. The group has made headlines for their bold protests, which largely involve targeting institutions where the Sackler family’s name adorns museum wings and galleries; the Sacklers started Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the aforementioned drug and has knowingly misled the public about its addictive properties. Poitras tackles the complex subject matter of Goldin’s life, art, and activism (spanning not just the opioid epidemic but also the AIDS crisis in the late 80s and early 90s) with appreciable sophistication, eliciting dignity and consequence from even the scuzziest of dive bars. This makes for a natural congruence with Goldin’s practice, elevating it to the stuff of cinema rather than just mere documentation. A through line involving Goldin’s older sister, who tragically died by suicide as a young woman, takes us deeper into the artist’s brilliant but understandably burdened psyche; the detours into her associations with such writers and artists as Cookie Mueller and David Wojnarowicz are similarly illuminating and heartbreaking. 113 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center