Some documentaries just work. No planning or preparation can foresee what happens when you stick a camera in real-life and wait to see the outcome. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is one of these. A dive bar in Las Vegas, long-time home to a number of alcoholics called The Roaring 20s, is closing down. The camera simply floats around the bar for the last 12 hours of its life and listens in to the stories and conversations of the customers.
It could have been terrible, just a drunken home-movie showcasing why alcohol isn’t the greatest life choice and a petered out ending of a long-dead bar. Yet, it’s wonderful. It’s one of the most bitter-sweet, beautiful, heart-warming, heart wrenching looks at a collection of amazing characters whose life has taken a turn for the worse. To see the bar as the life-blood and home to so many intelligent and interesting people who have turned their alcoholic lives into a daily club is astonishing.
The alcoholic arc is amazing to watch as the night progresses with each member hitting anger, happiness, moroseness, self-hatred and regret at different moments as conversations move between various groups. One moment you’re gunning for a character before they suddenly say something utterly outrageous, or one you don’t particularly like who unexpectedly shows incredible compassion or insight. Even the bar-tender’s teenage son, who is sitting out the back on his BMX, gets in on the action by continually stealing booze from the storeroom.
Every single customer has a great back-story, as they drunkenly recount to whoever will listen. You know they tell these stories every night, which makes it all the more difficult to watch. One drops acid halfway through the night and spends the rest of his time touching his drink as if he has found the answer to life.
It’s lovely to see that even when people’s lives are at their lowest, there are places where they can be themselves with others who don’t judge and welcome them with open arms, and when you realise this will be the last time they ever get together, it brings tears to the eyes.
We’ll leave the last word to Mike, an ex-actor, who put together the most beautiful soliloquy of the whole night. ‘There’s nothing more boring than a man used to do stuff, who doesn’t do stuff anymore because he’s sat in a bar.’ A reflection for us all.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is streaming now as part of the London Film Festival. You can watch it here.
Review by Colin Lomas