There seems to be an odd image about American Dive Bars. I’m not talking about those rough honkytonks or roadhouses. I’m talking about the small, neon sign flickering places of dim lighting, with the smell of stale beer, piss, and sweat in the air. Filled with barflies and cheap booze. They’ve been idealised over the last 60 years from places you end up in when you find another level below rock-bottom, to the last dens of the true dead beat-poets, the true bastion of the bohemian and gutter punk.
I blame Kerouac and Bukowski for romanticising them.
Not that we have those types of dive bars over here. It’s just that ours come with the image of a nine-year-old child trying to get their dad home because the family hasn’t seen him since Wednesday and it’s Christmas morning, and why did he drink the money for dinner?
Bloody Noses, Empty Pockets is the documentary covering the last day of a Las Vegas dive bar in 2016/17.
As bartenders Marc and Shay prepare for the last day of the Roaring 20’s Cocktail Lounge on a Vegas skid row, they are joined by the regular and eclectic clientele to celebrate the venue. From diverse backgrounds, the patrons include war vets, old hippies, failed actors, travellers, performers, beat-poets, bohos, burnouts, the broken, the getting-by, and the just getting. They muse on the human condition, booze, and the questions on Jeopardy as they toast goodbye to their onetime heaven.
I think I might really love this film.
Or it could be that I haven’t been to a pub in that long a time that any exposure is giving me my fix.
It’s fitting that this Bloody Noses is set in Vegas because the film is gonzo. Not pure gonzo, we don’t meet the filmmakers and don’t get their first-person participatory. Rather it’s that Hunter S. Thompson blurring of fact and fiction to get to the truth of the matter. Fictional without a script; non-actors playing themselves; a documentary goal of adlibbing and capturing a moment in time. With a Naturalistic approach, filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross have achieved Style to Create Substance. With the perfect balance of “show-don’t tell” they’ve managed to outstep most mainstream films. People enter the bar; people leave. There is no interview, no Office talking to the camera. But you learn so much about them through half caught conversations with each other. You feel less like the viewer and more like the one sober person there, nursing a coke because you have the rotten luck to be the designated driver, while all your friends have a good time.
At times you forget you’re watching a documentary. At times you forget you’re watching a film. It’s almost theatre.
You pick up on the hidden anger of Michael, who muses, with pride, that he’s more interesting a person because he only became a drunk after failing. Or the drink nulled despair of war veteran Brad, who feels rejected by the country he fought for. To them, the Roaring ’20s is a haven from a mess-up world; they muse on the outside world topics such as the rapid change of Las Vegas, the Trump presidency, their own lives.
There is no real plot, just the premise of celebrating the end of the bar. No character arc, no self-discovery. At times it feels like a Beck video, fragmented, and handheld. And maybe that’s the point. Recreating a night in the Roaring 20’s Cocktail Lounge, a hundred half-caught conversations at the end of the bar, while regulars sing and swing and the world blends into one massive half-remembered story. A story that feels far more real than any documentary could be.
Bloody Noses, Empty Pockets is worth your time and effort.
Dir: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
Prd: Michael Gottwald, Chere Theriot, Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
DOP: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
Music: Casey Wayne McAllister
Runtime: 98 minutes