There’s the phrase, “liquid courage” that often drives unforgettable memories—it immerses us in moments that strike us with profound boldness and rarity (whether we’re sober or not to truly acknowledge them) all thanks booze. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets takes us on a transient, disillusioned, and immersive journey through one day at the Roaring 20s, a shabby but quaint Las Vegas dive bar that’s closing for good.
The bar’s regulars—a community of drifters and loners—come together for 18 hours of one last hurrah. We’re given the pleasure of watching a group of regulars drink their sorrows away and say their goodbyes as the end of an era approaches. Stories are exchanged, songs are sung, and both angry and somber conversions take place.
It’s always fun watching anyone get straight up hammered, but in docufiction by Bill and Turner Ross, we witness a ship slowly sinking; a ship that’s served as a home and community for all of these people. So when the only thing you’ve known to be home suddenly gets stripped away what happens? How do they face reality when the paramount thing that brings them normality is disappearing? Where will they go? No one knows, but the only thing they do know what to do is to drink in unison as the curtains draw to close.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets surely looks and feels like a documentary. It’s a fascinating spectacle framed by guerilla work and the misty dim bar lights. But in reality, the Roaring 20s still exists. It’s actually located in New Orleans and the longtime friends on screen are actually actors and were strangers prior to shooting the film. The film’s an artifice, and this is what makes this film so magnetic and enticing.
During the 18-hour period, people are walking in and out of the bar, progressively getting more and more inebriated which naturally shifts the atmosphere. We drift through and eavesdrop on various conversations about loss, failure, millennials, breasts, and Trump (ironically this film shot at the time of his inauguration).
The Ross brothers are no strangers when it comes to experimental filmmaking. Their early film, 45365, which earned a Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 SXSW, follows a small community in Sidney, Ohio. The brothers have a sharp eye for covering overlooked communities that live in the tiny pockets of America. More importantly, they have a talent in capturing nuances and erratic behaviors of the human condition; they beautifully portray these without tarnishing their authenticity and intimacy.
The film is beautifully shot. The way the Ross brothers choose which subjects to focus their cameras on during specific moments is an art form in itself. They pan in on someone pondering while sipping their drink as commotion, noise, and conversations envelope them. By watching people display the best and worst of themselves over alcohol, we get to witness an alarmingly honest and human experience.
Though there aren’t many direct thoughts or words expressed, we can see and feel the sadness and even fear deepen as the night grows older and their time with their beloved community and home comes to an end. There’s a particular scene where the bar regular and the film’s lead, Michael (Michael Martin), sings along to a Roy Orbison song. The camera captures a reflection of him in the mirror while there’s chattering going on around him. Michael’s surrounded by friends, yet there’s a profound sense of longing and lonesomeness that permeates the air. It’s utterly bittersweet but too captivating to look away.
It’s an hour and half of debauchery and fun, and the dusty neon lights inside the hole-in-the-wall bar creates a beautiful ambiance that pulls you in. The television plays in the background while people are getting rowdier and more emotional by the hour. Arguments threaten to turn into violence, tears are shed, and laughter crackles through the air. We also see people staring off into space with a glint of fear and sadness painted across their faces. It’s a beautiful bundle of contradicting emotions that’s incredibly bleak, bittersweet, and transfixing.
What Is the New Normal?
The future is unclear. We don’t know where Michael is headed; and he doesn’t know either. The timing of the release of this film is rather interesting. With the COVID pandemic, many businesses have shut down for good, people have lost their jobs, and lost loved ones. Moreover, racial disparities have cut a deep wound into our lives, putting many in a state of agitation, anger, and sadness.
It’s been a time of grief, loss, and reflection to say the least. All of this has made many question the meaning of home—what are the things, events, and people in our lives who’ve defined normality and are no longer there? What is the new normal now? Just like the folks at the bar, we’re all adjusting and figuring it out. Not to mention, we’re all feeling isolated.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is an immersive experience to say the least. It’s a bold cinematic achievement and fine work of deception. The film refuses to abide by any sort of boundaries. It’s admirable, and better yet, we have the pleasure in witnessing all of this. The brothers have crafted a unique and brilliant piece of cinema that so delicately and easily invites us in. It leaves you with a sweet sense of poignancy—a unique kind of feeling that’s worth experiencing.
What are some of your favorite films that defy convention? Let us know in the comments.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is currently running in virtual cinemas.
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