Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a documentary study unlike anything you’ve quite seen before, and there are stories behind how it all came together, but we’ll come back to that later. To summarise though, Bill Ross and Turner Ross’s film is a no-holds-barred look at the last night of Las Vegas dive bar ‘The Roaring 20s’, complete with Cheers-like graphics for the opening titles, signifying this is a place where everybody knows your name.
Opening at 10:50am on the morning of the final day, we meet several early customers who are there to help set up the venue for one last night of partying and, of course, an alcoholic drink. The first personality that stands out is Mike, an old guy who’s been visiting there for years. He’s full of advice, always taking his notebooks along who says he only became an alcoholic after he was a failure but ruined his life sober. Over the day and night, you’ll also meet Cheryl, Marc, Aussie John, Lowell, Ira, Bruce, Pete, Felix, Al, Rikki, Pam, Shay, Tra, Trevor, Kevin, David, Kamari, Sophie and Miriam and – in truth – you might never forget them and, oh, what’s in the brown paper bag? You’ll find out later…
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets reminded me of a couple of years I lived through, and despite blurry evenings long forgotten, I found this film represented all the fun of the finest pub moments and all their unpredictability. If you know what I mean you’ll also understand this could be any people, whoever, wherever you live. There’s always the regulars, if you weren’t one yourself, but like ‘the 20s’ here, bars shut down, favourite owners move on and chains move in to kill any spirit and with it, lose that disorganised beauty. Sure, like here, there were alcoholics, drug dealers and lost souls but there was always people trying to find themselves of all ages, wisdom out of nowhere from old drunks, bad drunks and the usual false bravado on display.
While I’d say this is an encounter to consider, it might help to have a drink with you to get into the vibe of it all. As you would if you were in the bar itself. Although there’s a lot of laughter, there are also a number of deeper moments, mostly pushed forward by Mike who feels like the parent of everyone, trying to make sure people are okay but doing it in a subtle, from-a-distance way. However, despite all the merriment here’s a *SPOILER*, that I discovered afterwards, this was semi-constructed by the way they put it together, with the bar itself not even in Vegas, but the drunkenness is very real and it didn’t take anything away for me, especially as it always feels a little staged because no-one questions or acknowledges the cameramen you occasionally see.
I didn’t really feel any doubt towards the sadness of some of our personalities either. They exhibit minds wrapped in regret for things they haven’t done yet, or lost love, wives or sons and that realism always cuts deep. If you’ve lived any kind of life, then you’ll know these bars exist and you’re always stuck between disliking them for encouraging the worst in people but where else would people go, if they couldn’t get together there? They tend to look after each other and what’s better than being looked after if you’re off your head most of the time, and that’s a strange yet honest truth.
Packed with all kinds of great madness, I’m still laughing at Aussie John who leaves the party in the early hours, after tripping on Acid all night, steps into the car park and shouts at the sky “I fuck well and do shit!” – If that’s not worth celebrating, what is? Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets really was fun while it lasted, and while I wish I’d never known the truth about how it came together, I still believe it’s one hell of an achievement.
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