Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets




Finding the truth proves to be possible even when not telling the truth.


Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets


In 2018, Andrew Bujalski made Support the Girls, a tale which he had written himself and which was set in a bar in Texas. A fine portrait of female solidarity, it was also extremely atmospheric and it came to mind while I was watching this new work no less firmly centred on a bar, this one located in Las Vegas on the day when the establishment, The Roaring 20's, is closing down. Although the dive bar of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is run by a woman, the emphasis this time is more on men since they form the majority of the habitu├ęs who make a point of turning up for a last visit to what has become a kind of home from home, a place of shared companionship.


This new film by Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross has aroused debate because it has been screened as a documentary despite the fact that as the directors acknowledge some elements were rigged. Thus the bar interior was in truth in New Orleans, the premises were not due to close and those who appear on screen while not given a script were specifically selected for the movie (of these I understand that one, but only one, was a working actor). Although the approach taken cuts across traditional concepts of documentary filmmaking, I described the reaction to the film as being a debate rather than a controversy because, however you choose to categorise it, almost everybody has recognised Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets as having a rare sense of truth - and that is what counts and makes it quite as effective as Support the Girls.


The single actor involved is, I take it, Michael Martin, a central figure since he arrives in the morning and only departs after the next day has dawned. He is something of a philosopher and is portrayed as a man who prides himself on not having become an alcoholic until after he was already a failure. Michael's character is apparently less his own than one built up to suit the film, but he is no less persuasive than those chosen to represent themselves. Among these we find a black military veteran, Bruce, who recalls the acceptance he found as part of a platoon and he claims that he finds a comparable sense of companionship in the bar. The men may dominate but Pam, a feisty 60-year-old, certainly makes her mark and the person who runs the place is the bartender Shay as warm a presence as the leading figure played by Regina Hall in Support the Girls.


Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets proceeds in segments, but the divisions really do no more than serve to indicate the passage of time. It does seem like a plotted element when Shay worries about the risk of her teenage son falling into bad company but, save for the idea of this being the bar's final day, the only real dramatic arc is the way in which late on Michael suddenly starts to warn a younger man against bars and being dragged down by drinking in them. Until then despite the downbeat lives of many in The Roaring 20's the thrust of the piece has been positive and, although the shift in tone may have a validity, it doesn't quite fit the film. After all, when it comes to the final shots it reverts through reprise images of the clientele to a sense of warmth coupled with sadness for the closure. In any case the film does achieve a great deal and it is sufficiently unusual to call to mind films in two contrasted modes: it conjures up both the bleak reality of the 1956 documentary On the Bowery and the companionable singalongs in Liverpool that were reproduced so lovingly by Terence Davies in his autobiographical features.




Featuring  Michael Martin, Shay Walker, Tra Walker, Bruce Hadnot, John Nerichow, Marc Paradis, Cheryl Fink, Pam Harper, Pete Radcliffe, Rikki Redd, Lowell Landes, Isa J. Clark, Kamari Stevens, Al Page.


Dir Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, Pro Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross, Michael Gottwald and Chere Theriot, Ph Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, Ed Bill Ross IV, Music Casey Wayne McAllister.


Concordia Studio/Department of Motion Pictures/XTR-Curzon.
98 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 24 December 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.