Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets appears like a familiar kind of story, at. It’s not fiction, like Charles Jackson’s novel The Lost Weekend or Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh, the documentary likewise commemorates the alcoholic dissipation of the American everyman. A dive bar called the Roaring 20 s on the fringe of Las Vegas is closing down forever, and a tangle of regulars and bartenders gather to commemorate, get squandered, and cry into their Buds.
This is the fifth film from the bros Expense and Turner Ross. We open en plein air, on an asphalt wasteland. The movie quality is slightly grainy, the color cleaned out, as shots of Vegas exurbia streak past. A guy with long white hair ambles toward a building with no windows, pulls back the door, and there it is: home.
Even in the daytime the Roaring 20 s is a uterine environment: dark, safe, and hard to leave. Bric-a-brac comply with the walls and the ceiling, and the lights never lighten up beyond a six o’clock gloom. One by one we satisfy its people.
There’s Michael, a washed-up actor who is happy to state that he became a failure before he ended up being an alcoholic. He starts the film with his head on the bar, however later he will be lit from within by alcohol and rush into the arms of a stunning brunette named Rikki. There’s Bruce, the soft-eyed, weepy military veteran, and Pam, a 60- year-old wildchild, vulnerable to toplessness and flirting with the younger patrons. Rikki herself is a joy, her regal face stiff from treatments in such a way that matches her ice-queen, deadpan wit. For the majority of the movie, an Australian male called John sits mutely at the bar, gazing into his beer while tripping hard on acid.
For some of these individuals, the end of Roaring 20 s is a chance. Shay and Tra (they rhyme) will move somewhere else and start over. Pete is young enough to get his life back together. For Bruce, however, this is an armageddon. Pam soothes him as he cries. “What actually injures me is that we fought for this country and they treat us like shit,” he states as tears roll down his face, her thumbs increasing to satisfy them. As she brushes them into a wet glaze she states she understands that the bar resembled his household.
There’s no plot as such, simply fights and jokes and tears. So far, so foreseeable; Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets at first encounters as a heartfelt story about misfits and community. But then you start to notice the video cameras.
You can see individuals recording, once in a while, in the bar back mirrors. The electronic cameras are not popular, however they’re there, which does not quite fit with the rest of the movie’s style. None of the subjects ever speak into the camera, nor are the cameras ever acknowledged as part of the “reality” of the bar, so why not keep them out of frame?
The existence of the video cameras in the mirrors accentuates the Rosses’ procedure, which turns out to be extremely distinctive. The shoot went like this: Over 3 days, they shot a group of people improvising in a New Orleans bar, then later on cut those scenes with video from around Las Vegas to make the supposed location reputable. The cast are not expert stars however rather a mix of charming individuals the brothers currently knew personally and strangers they ‘d cast after meeting them in situ, at dive bars. Their task was essentially to be themselves. They drank, enjoyed, sometimes sobbed, and sometimes combated. Now and then the siblings introduced triggers (putting Jeopardy! on the bar TV, for instance) or made concessions to the actors’ demands (playing music, although it made recording audio harder).
This semi-fictional method has several bewildering impacts on the film. At the level of category, it seems like a betrayal to learn that this documentary isn’t “true.” I felt deceived when I discovered how the Rosses had actually made it– then interested by my own inflammation. The bros Ross did not compose a script, for instance, however rather distilled one out of lots of hours of raw video footage.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a fictional documentary made with techniques more usually associated with nonfiction, such as sifting through hours of archival dross in order to recover two seconds of excellent video footage. The distinction is that the Rosses have managed the dross themselves. Their technique works well for the purposes of comedy. Scenes end in perfect punchlines that betray obsessive editing. Minutes of practically astounding synchronicity happen– as they always will, if you eliminated enough of the boring parts of life.
The ethics of shooting intoxicated people are difficult. Documentaries can be just as artistically mannered as any type of motion picture, but they are all linked in the tough predicament of the observer effect, suggesting that just by existing, the documentarian will change the environment they are recording, and inevitably apply some sort of control over the procedure. We have actually long grown utilized to the idea of documentarians like Errol Morris and Werner Herzog shaping the truth– rather than simply documenting it– however in this instance, the Ross brothers are literally enabling the alcoholics to get drunker. They remain to film it, for our entertainment.
Can such a filmmaker claim to be recording reality at all? In a Q&A with the bros distributed by the film’s supplier, Turner Ross stated that was next to the point. “We’re not attempting to exist under the guise of documentary,” he said. “We want to use truth, naturalism, realism, things that are around us and available to make these hand-made motion pictures together … And it occurred that the palette that we paint with is gleaned from real life.” There’s no denying the authenticity of the people in this film, even if they’re not rather who they state they are.
The Ross brothers seem to be arguing that a person who is technically lying can still be genuine, as long as they’re “being themselves.” It’s helpful to compare the movie to traditional partially scripted compound documentaries like The Exiles (1961) or Dirty and Sugary Foods McGee (1971), which the Rosses reference in their cinematography. Like those movies, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is interested in a version of fact that lies with the addicts themselves. Reality remains in their humankind, not the world around them.
The siblings have actually made a number of other films in the very same style: 45365(2010), a tribute to their home town of Sidney, Ohio; Tchoupitoulas(2012), about a huge night out in New Orleans; and the Wild West– style doc Western(2015). As in the new film, they also whittled these tight documentaries out of long hours of tape. “We may be authors or provocateurs,” Turner goes on in the Q&A, “but we have not coached these efficiencies out of these people, these individuals are giving us a genuine piece of their lives.”
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is an intriguing film and a challenge to the method we still pigeonhole art by genre. “Filmmaker,” “actor,” and “drunk” all become entertainers, drawing our attention far from the problem of whether this is fiction and towards the possibility of a third option.