Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets - LFF 2020
"Authenticity is embedded in this viewing experience, to the point where it feels exactly like you’ve pushed through the saloon bars of this particular Las Vegas dive bar and pulled up a stool."
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets demands to be viewed whilst sinking many bottles of your favourite alcoholic-beverage. Had I not been watching this at 1 o’clock in the afternoon I would’ve done just that, but by the time I realised what a prerequisite it would’ve been, the party was in full swing! This film is a love letter to anyone who has ever found comfort from drinking into the night with a bunch of misfits, be they friends or strangers. The often meaningless, often profound but always special conversations and connections we make as our ABV consumption increases is a thing of beauty. As a beer drinker I have great respect and love for the communal and social lubrication it allows. We are at our most honest when we drink - I truly believe that. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets ensures that honesty is captured forever.
Part-documentary, part staged performances, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets takes place in a Las Vegas bar called 20’s, which is closing its doors for good. We follow a parade of individuals from the wee hours of the morning to the last call for alcohol the following morning. Introduced to a motley crue of characters that we either take to instantly, are slightly repulsed by or find funny - it’s all so relatable. I didn’t realise at first that these guys weren’t performing! I thought the acting was just so on point! But it turns out there is only one professional actor in the midst of things, Michael, everyone else is exactly who they are.
"Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets demands to be viewed whilst sinking many bottles of your favourite alcoholic-beverage."
The director assembled a crew of regulars from haunts around Las Vegas and put them into this melting pot of excessive drinking (supplemented with carefully managed catering and cab rides home to ensure no harmful repercussions). One of the things that strikes you early on is that they’re all talking English, but there are subtitles throughout. Thank God for the subtitles, the drunken slurring and ramblings need it. The subtitles are also needed, because there is a jukebox playing throughout. The participants argued that they needed loud music to be playing if it was going to feel like a real bar. So you can see, authenticity is embedded in this viewing experience, to the point where it feels exactly like you’ve pushed through the saloon bars of this particular Las Vegas dive bar and pulled up a stool.
The bar is dingy, red-lit, smoke-filled, yet welcoming. It’s filled with characters who make up a town that is slowly losing its character. The bar represents the best of people and with its closure, the sad reality that with every end to an institution like this the occupants get a little more lost and a little lonelier. It’s even more tragic when we see the likes of traumatised vets, lonely old men, transvestites, multi-ethnic youths and widows all sharing the same space and forming their own sense of belonging and community in the company of others.
"Cry along, laugh along and drink along."
As the film progresses, you drink in everything and become as fucked up as they are. I really mean it when I say you should have a beer in hand for this one! Listen to the tales, listen to the confessions, the boasts, the embarrassments and the tear jerking stories. Cry along, laugh along and drink along. If cinema can bring people together then most certainly a film about drinking with others can do it twofold. Like any night at a bar there are characters you wish would leave. Ones that talk a little too long or a little too bluntly. But that’s all part of the experience. It does feel by journey’s end that we’ve outstayed our welcome, but then, don’t all the best benders? It’s usually someone else calling the shots and getting us safely home. For the characters we spend this uniquely beautiful 90 minutes with, it is never in doubt, the bar is their home. That sounds sad, perhaps. Even a little pathetic? But it’s not. Not when it’s presented like this. All those who feel they don’t belong find belonging in the company of like minded individuals. The beauty of the bar, and the beauty of this film, is that like minded individuals can come from the most disparate backgrounds imaginable. As COVID speeds up the loss of these sorts of havens, this film serves as a timely reminder that they are embedded in our identity. As we lose them, we lose ourselves. Sad… but beautiful.