Poitras, Herzog, and Cousins

Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

Nicolas Rapold is in Venice watching films, of course, but also recording half-hour episodes of his podcast The Last Thing I Saw. He’s had easygoing and illuminating conversations with Jonathan Romney about Todd Field’s TÁR, with Guy Lodge about Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter, and with Glenn Kenny about Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener. Rapold and Jessica Kiang spent the full first half of Monday’s episode essentially singing the praises of Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, the only nonfiction film to be selected to premiere in competition in Venice. Now it heads to Toronto, and then to New York, where it will be the festival’s Centerpiece presentation.

Best known for her Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour (2014), Poitras originally set out to make a film about the protests against Purdue Pharma, the maker of the highly addictive opioid medication OxyContin. The campaign against the company owned by the Sacklers, a family worth billions, has been spearheaded by Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.), a group of activists founded by photographer Nan Goldin. When Poitras began interviewing Goldin in 2019, it didn’t take her long to realize that the life and work of this crucial artist is the real story here.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is “about the bonds of community, the dangers of repression, and how art and politics are the same thing,” writes Sophie Monks Kaufman at IndieWire. Most importantly for Kaufman, the film is “worthy of Goldin, a woman whose words are as stark as her art, and whose art shows our most intimate and vulnerable selves. To this day, Goldin is known for her breakout photography collection The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which includes joyfully candid images of the queer family she had at the Bowery in ’80s New York, self-portraits of sex with her boyfriend, and then her face with two black eyes after he later did his utmost to kill her.”

For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, what’s “profound, and incendiary, about All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is the way that Laura Poitras excavates the story of how deeply Nan Goldin’s photographs are rooted in trauma.” The “heart of the film—and, arguably, of Goldin’s work—is her beloved older sister, Barbara, a rebellious nonconformist who was too full of life for their parents to handle,” writes Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter. Barbara was, as Gleiberman puts it, “institutionalized for having ‘impulses’ we would now view as healthy. She committed suicide at the age of eighteen, in 1964 (when Nan was eleven), by laying down on train tracks.”

When Goldin became addicted to opioids in 2017, the fury she felt toward the Sacklers was exacerbated by her awareness of the clout the family has maintained in the art world by donating to such major institutions as the Metropolitan and the Guggenheim in New York and the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate in London. P.A.I.N.’s protests have been instrumental in getting these museums to remove the Sackler name from their respective wings and galleries—even if they haven’t returned the money.

For David Katz at the Film Stage, “it’s important to note how successfully and stylishly Poitras and editing team Joe Bini, Amy Foote, and Brian A. Kates cross-cut between exposition and narration on Goldin’s long, fascinating biography and present-day passages.” Poitras’s “aesthetic” is “somewhat sterile in a good way: steely, interlocking, and monolithic.”

Werner Herzog at Eighty

Everyone’s favorite Bavarian Angeleno turned eighty on Monday. He was at Telluride, presumably in the Werner Herzog Theatre, presenting his latest nonfiction film, Theatre of Thought, which has now landed in Toronto. It’s “a characteristically playful documentary in which the filmmaker scrambles for whatever errant insight he can find into the world of tomorrow,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “His best hope: The human brain. Whatever the future holds, it will spring from the same folded bundle of tissue that got us to the present, and likewise be created in its image (cue the scene where Herzog interviews one of the people responsible for creating Siri and asks them point blank ‘How stupid is Siri?’).”

At the Playlist, Jason Bailey finds Herzog’s latest film to be “one of his weakest,” but Sheri Linden calls this venture into neuroscience “one of his most piercing inquiries yet . . . Amid the cryostats and nanoparticles and fiber optics, the clunky gadgets and impenetrable-to-the-layperson diagrams, he summons a wry and lyrical mix of awe and foreboding.”

In the meantime, Herzog’s eightieth is being celebrated in Germany with a film series in Munich and an exhibition in Berlin. “Across his distinguished career, he limns consciousness alongside the desires we have to escape the bounds of our heads,” writes Anne Goldman for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Herzog’s debut novel, The Twilight World, “is striking in its evocation of these constraints as well as in its turbid atmosphere and innuendo.” And his memoir, Every Man for Himself and God Against All, a collection of thirty-six scenes from an extraordinary life, is being lauded by German reviewers.

Back at Telluride, Nick Allen caught Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer, a documentary portrait by Thomas von Steinaecker. Writing for the Playlist, Allen suggests that it “does not leave much of its own footprint. But at least its subject, handled by this film with enough care and awe, always will.” When IndieWire’s Eric Kohn asked Herzog how it feels to turn eighty, he replied, “It sounds like statistics. I do not really relate it. I’m coming of age. Of course, I do notice that I’m coming of age, but I’ll do what I do until they carry me out feet first.”

Three from Mark Cousins

Keeping nearly as busy as Herzog, Mark Cousins has launched one documentary in Venice and another at Telluride, while last year’s The Story of Film: A New Generation opens in theaters across the country tomorrow. It’s an update to The Story of Film: An Odyssey, the fifteen-part series that ran on British television in 2011. In the New York Times, Ben Kenigsberg calls it “a gratifyingly international survey in which Cousins, who narrates, applies his analytical eye to movies that are still settling in the mind. If you feel like you haven’t fully absorbed such significant films as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour (2016) or Mati Diop’s Atlantics (2019), Cousins’s consideration of their visual strategies will make you want to watch them again.”

Writing for Slant, Chris Barsanti notes that the new Story is “stitched together by Cousins’s ruminative narration and a magpie approach to glimmering bits of modern filmic lore. The director and critic’s approach is appealing, in that he sounds somehow both serene and thrilled at once, like a sleep-deprived professor who stayed up all night crafting notes for a seminar and now dearly wants to communicate what he’s come up with.”

With The March on Rome, presented as a special screening at the Giornate degli Autori in Venice, Cousins “delivers perhaps his most politically explicit film to date,“ writes Jonathan Holland for Screen. It’s “a sweeping, perceptive, and stylish documentary which charts the rise and fall of Mussolini and of European fascism—but which starts and ends with a ‘warning from history’ focus on Donald Trump.”

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of what the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw calls Mussolini’s “ragged march of blackshirts from Naples to the capital.” The film also addresses “the part played by the fledgling art form of cinema in promoting Mussolini’s supposed glamour and prestige, and in bringing its own delirious futurist excitement into alignment with fascism . . . The eloquence of this film is invigorating—and educational.”

In My Name is Alfred Hitchcock, Cousins “hopscotches through the Master of Suspense’s body of work based on ideas and images, not your typical film-by-film chronological approach,” writes Christian Blauvelt at IndieWire. “He’s made hyperlinked connections throughout Hitchcock’s whole filmography (clips from almost every one of his films appear) to show that these works are not of the past: They remain eternally present tense.”

Hitchcock—or rather, impressionist Alistair McGowan—narrates, and for Sheri Linden, “once you’ve gotten past the film’s ventriloquist conceit—that Hitchcock, addressing Cousins and us, is revisiting his body of work from the perspective of the smartphone-tethered twenty-first century—you’ll marvel at the breathy detail of the performance. By then the film will have drawn you in with Cousins’s typically sharp connections as he delves into the visual language of Hitchcock’s creations, the narrative motifs and inventive strategies—wizardly tricks in ‘a trickster medium.’”

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