‘All The Beauty And The Bloodshed’: an epic portrait of addiction
Plus, a rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
Sunday 22 January 2023 By James Wilson
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
Six hundred thousand. That’s the number of Americans estimated to have died as a result of the opioid epidemic since OxyContin – an effective but highly addictive opioid – was released. Launched by the pharmaceutical company Purdue in 1996, the drug was accompanied by an aggressive marketing campaign, buttering doctors up with lavish, all expenses-paid events pushing OxyContin’s merits and playing down its addictiveness. With lethal precision, Purdue targeted the doctors who prescribed the most opioids. It worked. Patients were prescribed the opioid and many soon became addicted.
Purdue was primarily owned by the Sackler family, who are now synonymous with America’s opioid epidemic. For far longer though, it was a name that could be found in museums, art galleries and universities as a result of their prolific philanthropy. Arthur Sackler, the late family patriarch, was described by one art historian as the ‘modern Medici’.
It’s an association that has sickened many in the art world. And one artist, Nan Goldin, decided to do something about it. In All The Beauty And The Bloodshed, Laura Poitras’s new documentary, Goldin’s crusade against the Sacklers is captured in all of its righteous ferocity.
Pain in Goldin’s wrist led to an OxyContin prescription in 2014, which in turn led to her three-year addiction to opioids. Narrowly avoiding death from a fentanyl overdose, she recovered after a stint in rehab to take on the Sacklers, founding the organisation Pain (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now).
After thousands of lawsuits, Purdue was dissolved in 2021, with the Sacklers paying a $4.5 billion court settlement, which also granted immunity from being held liable for the fallout of the opioid crisis. The only place Pain could hold the Sacklers accountable was in the galleries and museums that take their money, where the activists sweep in en masse, chanting, staging die-ins (gathering on the ground as if dead) and littering the ground with bottles of prescription pills.
It worked – Pain’s activism has sawn away at the family’s link with the art world, with several institutions removing the Sackler name. But the deaths continue, with the year to March 2022 marking the highest annual mortality rate yet.
All The Beauty And The Bloodshed will be released in UK cinemas on 27 January.
Here are this week’s recommendations.
The Menu (Disney+)
Right from the start of The Menu, when obsessive ‘foodie’ Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his girlfriend Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) hop on the boat to take them to dinner, there’s a palpable sense of menace. They’re headed to Hawthorn, the island-based restaurant owned by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). It isn’t long before things get seriously weird.
Fiennes is brilliantly menacing as Slowik, with Hoult’s character fawning over him throughout. Taylor-Joy shines and the other guests – a selection of the great and the good including a washed-up movie star, a food critic and a gang of young businessmen with an entitled frat-boy attitude – are all hysterically unlikeable. A darkly funny film, it’s a lot of fun.
The Creative Act: A Way Of Being by Rick Rubin
When I started The Creative Act: A Way Of Being, I did, I admit, raise an eyebrow. From someone who’s produced records for some of the biggest names in music, you’d expect, if not a straight-up memoir, at least plenty of anecdotes. But you’ll find none in Rick Rubin’s debut book, in which the veteran producer forgoes the stories of what happened in the recording studio and instead lays out how he approaches the creative process. It’s essentially a self-help guide for unleashing your inner artist. But Rubin’s advice is delivered pithily and there isn’t the self-aggrandisement that so often comes with self-help books. There’s actually a lot that serves as a useful nudge towards being more creative and productive, especially when in the familiar territory of approaching a deadline…
CACTI by Billy Nomates
There are few artists around at the moment as fresh and original as the Bristol-based Billy Nomates. On this, her second album, Nomates’ wistful vocals combine with the snarl of guitars to make something pretty special; an angsty, post-punk record without the laddishness that’s come to define the genre. Highlights include the title track, ‘saboteur forcefield’ and the punchy ‘spite’ – all about attending a party simply out of resentment. Taking her name from the insult directed at her for attending a Sleaford Mods gig on her own, her self-titled debut arrived in 2020 to little fanfare. If you haven’t heard of her, do dive into her back catalogue.
Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations for Creative Sensemaker to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s all for now. Have a lovely weekend.