I reviewed the Ross brothers’ BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS for this week’s Cinefile Chicago list.
Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross’ BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS (Documentary)
Music Box Theatre – available to rent digitally here.
For dive-bar aficionados and sleazy-atmosphere enthusiasts, BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS may be the ultimate quarantine movie. A transporting work so pungent that you can smell it, the Ross brothers’ film documents the last 24 hours inside of “The Roaring 20s,” a colorful Las Vegas watering hole, before its permanent closure. It begins with Michael Martin, a charismatic patron who resembles a drunken, degenerate version of Seymour Cassell, waking up in the bar in the morning, doing a shot of bourbon from a coffee cup then heading into the bathroom to shave with an electric razor – all with the full blessing of the bar’s daytime staff. In one of many humorous lines of “dialogue,” Michael states that he takes pride in the fact that he didn’t become an alcoholic until after he was “already a failure.” Does that sad logic make you smile? Then this is a movie for you. Does it make you wince? It still might be a movie for you. Over the course of what seems to be a typical day and night, the bar slowly fills up with regulars, all of them memorable characters in their own right. They watch JEOPARDY, shoot the shit, dance to songs on the jukebox, and become increasingly intoxicated as the blinding sunlight visible through the establishment’s front door slowly fades from the sky, allowing the dingy, red-hued lighting of the bar’s interior to work its nighttime magic. BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS is an exceptionally beautiful film, a tough but empathetic portrait of working-class American life that Charles Bukowski would have loved. Among the many memorable moments: A Grizzly Adams-looking bartender serenades the room with a surprisingly poignant cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” on an acoustic guitar; a woman proudly bares her “60-year-old titties” to the stranger on the barstool next to her; a cake, emblazoned with the words “THIS PLACE SUCKED ANYWAYS” in frosting, is consumed; Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet Montage masterpiece THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN shows on a television monitor while country music incongruously fills the air; and the kids out back smoke weed while discussing the amount of Plutonium required to change the earth’s balance. There is nothing on screen to suggest that there are fictional elements, or filmmaking trickery of any sort, present – so revelations that the film’s cast was actually found after a nationwide audition process and that the bar’s interiors were shot in New Orleans (over a span of two 18-hour days) then cut together with exteriors of Sin City, has rankled some critics and viewers who claim to feel duped by the filmmakers’ supposed dishonesty. But combining documentary and fiction techniques is as old as the cinema itself and, in the end, what matters is not how the thing is done but why. I would argue that, by presenting The Roaring 20s as a kind of microcosm of contemporary America, a space filled with a multiracial cast of self-medicating “99 percenters,” the Ross brothers have created an indirect critique of late capitalism that feels more truthful than what could have been achieved through traditional documentary means. (2020, 98 min) MGS