Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
13th October 2020 8.30pm at BFI Player
As the sun rises, so does the moon – but for the Roaring 20s bar in Las Vegas, the booze will be flowing for the final time. Bill and Turner Ross’s documentary drama Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets ventures into the downtown venue to capture the last curtain call before it shuts its doors for good. Providing a fly-on-the-wall experience as locals get together in celebration of the roadhouse they call home, the film welcomes viewers on this journey, granting us a front-row seat at the closing ceremony.
The barflies themselves, many of whom consider this joint a second residence, appear in the form of a multitude of personalities, all coalescing throughout the day to compose a dysfunctional yet loving family. Their conversations become the focal point of the feature – some are audible, some are drowned out by the ringing of an old jukebox or TV game show reruns, but none would feel out of place around a dinner table amongst close friends and family in this grounded display of pure humanity.
The picture itself explores an assembly of themes and issues as the camera floats from table to bar, ranging from a mother’s struggling relationship with her son to sentimentality, addiction, politics and dealing with grief. Together these discussions add up to 98 minutes of pure intoxicated joy. This conversational element fascinatingly highlights the variety of exchanges which take place in almost every bar yet go mostly unnoticed. Surprisingly, it makes for a really interesting viewing. Accompanying the dialogue is a great jukebox soundtrack and musical score from Casey Wayne McAllister that rings throughout. The filming matches this with its epically artistic warm and retro approach – a true example of fly-on-the-wall cinematography at its finest.
There are a few issues arising behind the scenes of this project that might cause some qualms – most notably that although presented as being shot over the course of one day, the film was actually captured across two 18-hour shoots. Now for many, this won’t be a problem since this method is realistically required when one doesn’t have 50 cameras following the movements and interactions of 20 or so drinkers – however, it may strike some as being dishonest. Likewise, the docudrama was shot in New Orleans, but it was billed as a bar in Las Vegas. Furthermore, the Roaring 20s bar hasn’t actually shut down at all and a number of its inhabitants do in fact have prior acting experience. This raises the question of whether the feature really is as authentic as it seems – is it all a lie? Does authenticity matter? Well, it isn’t necessarily a falsehood but in fact a well-crafted façade that can easily be overlooked as you begin indulging in this documentary.
The film might not be organic in its creation but it is very natural and as the drinks flow, so does the conversation. As the jukebox is turned off for the final time in a moving conclusion, the viewer can’t help but shed a tear for the closure of this bar and its impact on the lovable locals, a cast of characters one didn’t even know existed two hours previous. All in all, it’s pretty damn cool.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets here: