The dying days of a dive bar on the outskirts of the Las Vegas strip is what is at the focus of Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross’ fly on the wall documentary. Growing up anywhere, you probably become familiar with the look of the pub, bar or community favourite haunt that’s in your hometown. We all know the place back home which has a recurring set of characters propped up against the bar, looking for a chat or simply looking to spend a night drinking alone. It is these kinds of figures that take the focus of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, as one bar community is faced with losing the place they view as a sanctuary. And we’re invited for the ride of one last boozy night.
The bar in question is The Roaring 20’s, a cocktail bar a stone’s throw away from the lights and glamour of Vegas. Due to growing prices of real estate in areas close to the Las Vegas strip, it can no longer keep the lights on and the drinks flowing. During the course of its last night, we sit in with the regular barflies as they raise a glass to their favourite spot. We see individuals from across a number of generations come and go across the night, as old friends reminisce, acquaintances argue and tempers flare as more liquor goes down the hatch.
Very much working in a style of cinema verite, the Ross’ shoot the proceedings with a sense of timeliness. While contemporary issues are discussed, this could easily have been plucked out of the 70s or 80s, with a textured haze hanging over the whole environment. Their camera is involved in the action in the bar, but only as if we ourselves are simply another person ordering a cocktail to celebrate the last hours of The Roaring 20s. It allows for the multitude of conversations that occur to feel authentic, as it lets all the larger than life characters breathe on screen in a very effortless fashion, as more of their heartaches are laid bare once more and more booze is consumed.
These individuals are made up of people who can be funny, can be irritating, pretentious, laid back, aggressive and also comforting. There’s people from all walks of life resting at the bar, and the film enjoys letting their faces do the talking. There are young people flaunting their naivety and older patrons whose deep lines on their face tell a thousand stories. There is also a great deal of sadness that taints the lives of many of these people, with tales of a Veteran’s pain and a struggling actor’s regrets drawing attention to the fact that many conversations are filled with genuine pain and turmoil.
It makes the documentary a very bittersweet experience. It is fascinated with the people it is hanging out with for one night, and the kind of poetry their lives and tall tales provide. It all feels effortless, as it very much allows the events of the night to take place at a naturally formed pace and rhythm, with only a few carefully selected films playing in the background (The Misfits! A Night to Remember) feeling like the most orchestrated element of the whole thing. It is pure lightning in a bottle filmmaking that feels like you’re watching something very special as it is unfolding.
There are a lot of lovable and pitiable figures roaming around in The Roaring 20s, and their lamentations of politics, generational divides as well as questioning exactly what the nature of a community should be, and how healthy it is to put too much value on a support system that revolves around alcohol, makes for a spellbinding experience. You have a great time hanging out with them, and that is made all the more profound by how vulnerable these people are allowing themselves to be. I’ve always suspected that you can find all shades of the human experience underneath a beer mat, and that is exactly what Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets highlights in its revealing, melancholic approach. It is a boozy, rollicking night as The Roaring 20’s rings in its last call. The bar patrons do not want this night to end, and it is a feeling that you will likely end up sharing.
Dir: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
DOP: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
Music: Casey Wayne McAllister
Runtime: 98 minutes
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is showing as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 on October 13th 2020.