Premise: A look at the final moments of a Las Vegas dive bar called ‘The Roaring 20s’.
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
The Roaring 20’s Cocktail Lounge may not have much in common with the titular bar from the long-running sitcom, but try telling that to those that love it most, the ones that populate it on its final night before closing. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, directed by brothers Bill and Turner Ross, chronicles that fateful day, from open to close, in Las Vegas. It’s a nondescript hole in the wall in a bankrupt strip mall, far from the neon allure of the strip and all it represents. The bar is only large enough to squeeze in a handful of booths, a jukebox, a couple couches, and a few spare feet for dancing between friends. Every town in America surely contains half a dozen bars just like it, so why is this one special?
The Ross brothers take a fly on the wall approach to their latest documentary, a la Altman’s Nashville, if that film were populated by regular folks with lesser dreams. Not to diminish the stories of the people we meet, of course. They dispense life advice, share philosophical wisdom, and air their grievances. There are no talking heads, no title cards (save for the occasional running clock to show the passing of the day), and no opening crawl giving the history of the bar or who these people are. Some stay throughout the entirety of the film, some try to stay and end up drinking too much, and some we only meet halfway through, but each one the Ross brothers feature makes a memorable impression.
Do a scant amount of research and you’ll find the premise of Bloody Nose may not be as realistic as it first appears. The Ross brothers actually rented the setting of the bar, populated it with patrons of other bars they had previously met, and told them to act as if it was the last day before their favorite bar closes for good. Does this revelation cheapen the naturalism of it all? If you’re looking for pure and simple documentary, maybe. But look at it as a way of presenting average people in a cinéma vérité fashion, and what you’ll find is a powerful look at human relationships. Bloody Nose could have easily been a film about the death of small businesses in an uncertain world (coincidentally, the footage was filmed the day after Donald Trump’s election in 2016), but the Ross brothers resist the urge to make any kind of grand statements. They’re clearly more interested in exploring what’s going on in the (inebriated) hearts and minds of their subjects.
From a filmmaking standpoint, Bill and Turner are clearly capable directors worth paying attention to. They know where to direct the camera and what to focus on, despite all the noise and chaos happening around them. As the bar clears out near the end of the night and the patrons celebrate outside with sparklers, the film switches to security footage, capturing a lingering bartender staring wistfully around the space. Take the film at face value, and you’ll realize that she’s not only out of a job now, but who knows when she’ll see these people again? It’s telling that the Ross brothers never “cast” someone to play the role of the bar’s owner. Perhaps it’s not supposed to be owned by a singular person; rather, it’s brought to life by those that inhabit it.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography (bensearsphotography.com) and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.