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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (2020)

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Original Review Date: 7 October 2020

What makes a documentary a documentary? Is it on the basis that what is being documented and reported to be factual? Is it peering into real people’s lives and witnessing real moments as they unfold before our eyes? How sure are we that what we are seeing is indeed authentic and truthful to the subjects being studied? Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (2020) is a film that challenges the very notion of what documentary filmmaking is and can be.

‘The Roaring 20s’ is a small dive bar in Las Vegas that has loyal patrons shuffling in throughout the day and overstaying their welcome deep into the night. However, Bloody Nose doesn’t follow it on just any other day, but instead decides on documenting its final night before they shut their doors forever. An eclectic cast of the bar’s inhabitants swing by and soak themselves into the bar stools – From a homeless former actor to an army veteran all the way to a shady Aussie ex-pat nursing a bag of acid - The Roaring 20s really has them all.

Now, what makes this film such a perplexing work, is once you find out the truth behind it. It didn’t take place over one night, but over several in a bar in New Orleans. The real bar in Vegas is still there and none of the inhabitants even knew each other prior to the film. Does knowing this change your perception of what you have seen or are about to see? You’d think so, but what you witness feels too real not to just cast aside as something a manufactured reality show would throw at us.

Although it is indeed staged to a point, none of the cast are actors and none of it is scripted. The filmmakers chose the colourful and diverse cast over hundreds of interviews with dwellers of various bars and then one night (or several), put them all together to witness something that is undeniably authentic without a shred of phoniness to be found. It is a work filled to the brim with genuinely touching moments of sincerity and human connection between these people who couldn’t possibly be strangers. The film does such a wonderful job of not romanticizing alcoholism, and despite these people’s love for booze bringing them together in the first place, it’s their desire to belong and find a real connection to one another – creating this endearing rag tag group of what society would perceive as f**k-ups.

Directing duo Bill and Turner Ross manage to construct a wildly entertaining, organic and moving piece of faux-documentary filmmaking that will reshape your idea of what the medium is capable of. Seek it out, pull up a stool and enjoy the show.

You can rent Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets at Curzon Home Cinema in the UK.

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