Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a frustrating masterpiece
For many, bars are places of community. Bars are places to get away from the world. In more extreme cases, bars are more of a home than the place one rests their head at night.
Imagine if that place you treasured so much closed. That is quite literally what Bill & Turner Ross did in their latest film, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. Presented as a documentary covering the final day of operation for a bar in Las Vegas called The Roaring Twenties, the Ross brothers skirt the lines between fiction and non-fiction. The documentary is filmed in New Orleans, not Vegas, featuring a bar that is not actually closing.
The Ross brothers frame their film like flies on the wall, capturing conversations between the “patrons.” There is no background given on the bar and only a minor attempt is made to explain why it is “closing.” For the most part, the film is simple conversations between people.
Does the deception actually matter? Surprisingly, not really. Especially in these post-COVID times, there’s something oddly captivating about watching unremarkable people converse in unremarkable ways. Michael the barfly is essentially the film’s “protagonist,” a real-life stage actor who practically says as much late in the narrative.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the characters get really drunk. The conversations become a little less interesting at that point, especially to sober outside viewers, but the Ross brothers do manage to capture the essence of intoxicated banter. There are points where the drunkenness does reveal a degree of deception, as repeated efforts by one character that he loves another ring hollow. It is not always so convincing in its attempts to portray the bar as one happy family.
People act differently when they’re being filmed. With that in mind, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets doesn’t really differ from any “documentary,” even if it feels weird to call it that. That’s completely okay. The Ross brothers deserve a lot of credit for their ability to craft a meaningful narrative while completely upending their genre.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a deeply frustrating film, a genre-defying triumph of humanity. The kind of masterpiece that makes you want to scream. It’s absolutely beautiful.
The film is surely not for everyone, especially those who aren’t fans of feeling tricked. Where the Ross brothers find their greatest success is in their ability to circumvent the kind of criticism there were bound to receive for a stunt like this. It probably shouldn’t have worked, but Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is such a fascinating gem.