Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross’ latest work “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” will impress you twice at least if you are going to watch it without much knowledge on how it was produced. Considering how much I was surprised even after I had some vague knowledge on its production, I think you should watch this remarkable piece of work right now instead of reading the following paragraphs which will reveal more about the film.
The setup of the film is pretty simple. Its main background is a little shabby bar located somewhere in Las Vegas, Nevada, and we gradually come to gather that the bar is about to have its last day, as meeting its daytime bartender and an alcoholic barfly named Michael, who is apparently suffering the consequence of whatever he drank at last night.
Once the bar is officially open, its usual patrons enter the bar, and we get to know each of them as the camera patiently observes their faces as well as their words. While an old African American guy named Bruce is usually quiet as sitting a bit far from others, Michael and other drinkers lively and closely interact with each other as beginning their another drinking time, and their daytime bartender is happy to provide whatever his customers are about to drink, though it is only around AM 11:00.
While often showing to us the outdoor shots tinted in bright colors, the film sways along with these drinkers in the bar, and time quickly passes with more glasses to be emptied. As a guy who sometimes dropped by a posh bar for drinking several glasses of cocktail, I certainly understand well how the sense of time can be considerably blurred by getting drunk more and more, and I was frequently amused by the ebullient mood among the drinkers in the bar, which is often boosted by a number of different pop songs played in the background.
In the meantime, the drinkers in the bar sometimes come to have sharp moments of wit and insight. Although he can be as cheerful as his fellow drinkers, Bruce seems to be still struggling with those traumatic war experiences during his military tour, and everyone listens to him as he quietly talks about what has been eating him for years. In case of Michael, it is implied that he had some big failures in his life, but he is not so bitter about that at present, and he sarcastically muses on his current status at one point: “I pride myself on only having become an alcoholic after I became a failure.”
As the afternoon is followed by the evening and then the evening is followed by the night, the mood inside the bar remains as lively as before. While the daytime bartender is eventually replaced by the nighttime bartender, several more frequent customers enter the bar, and some of the early customers come to leave because, well, they reach to their limit.
Nevertheless, Michael and several other early drinkers including Bruce and a burly Australian guy named John remain for more drinking, and they surely bring more fun and excitement into the bar despite their growing sadness. They have felt like a big happy family through drinking for many days and nights, but now there finally comes a point where they cannot have another fun drunken night again, and the bitterness comes to grow more and more as the eventual time for the last order is approaching.
During the shooting of their film, the Ross brothers, who also served as co-producers/cinematographers (Bill Ross IV also edited the film as usual, by the way), constantly looked for any good moment to be captured from the drinkers in the bar, and the result is quite vivid and spontaneous to say the least. There are actually several glaring shots in the film where you can see their camera, but they deliberately let these shots stay in the film for giving more rough realism to the film, and you will be amazed to learn that everything presented in the film actually comes from the improvised acting of the mostly non-professional cast assembled by the Ross brothers. As a matter of fact, the bar in the film is actually is located in New Orleans, Louisiana, and it is still in business even at this point.
Now you may question whether the film should be categorized as a work of fiction or should be regarded as a ‘documentary’ as intended by the Ross brothers. I initially felt conflicted a bit after coming to learn more about how they deliberately blurred the line between fiction and documentary during the production of their film, but I must admit that what they created along with their cast members, most of whom are actually experienced barflies selected via a series of auditions, approximates to what Werner Herzog called “exalted truth”, and I admire how the Ross brothers pull off those precious human moments of poetic beauty from their fascinating experiment. Yes, their cast members were really under alcoholic influence as spending two 18-hour days along with them for the shooting, but the cast members earnestly provided sublime materials to be processed by the Ross brothers at least, and these people come to us as unforgettably colorful figures to be remembered.
On the whole, “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” is quite fascinating for its curious mix of fiction and documentary, and you will appreciate its numerous good moments especially if you admire Barbet Schroeder’s “Barfly” (1987), which is incidentally one of the best bar drama films in my humble opinion. To be frank with you, I have already taken it for whatever it intends to be, and I am certainly willing to revisit it for more appreciation.