Thursday 22 October 2020

BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS - London Film Festival 2020

As the doors open for the last time at Nevada's 'Roaring 20's Cocktail Lounge', the regulars gather to reminisce about their favourite memories of the place, hoping to make a few more before the day is out. Among them is Michael, bringing with him celebratory doughnuts and determined to be the first one in and last one out to show his allegiance, even starting his day with a shave in their public restroom as if it's his own home. Alongside a host of friends cultivated atop a barstool, they plan to celebrate, commiserate and shoot the shit until last orders is called.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a hang out movie of the highest order, as if Richard Linklater and Charles Bukowski went for a drink together in a dive bar and their collective creative mojo conjured a film into existence, filled with booze addled romanticists spouting words of wisdom and lushes bemoaning the lives they've deprived themselves of in favour of staring at the bottom of a glass. '20's', as it's known to its patrons, is not a place of particular renown or infamy, but to these people it's important, and not just as the place where they can drink away their problems, when really, they should either be at work or at home with their families.

At times an unashamedly rose-tinted ode to the old-fashioned watering hole, this film isn't afraid to also show that the euphoria of that first, second or third drink quickly fades, and delivers some home truths about how wrong they might all be by spending their lives there. Michael, who prides himself in "not becoming an alcoholic until after I became a failure", rejects his Aussie neighbour at the bar's drunken proclamation that "this is home and you're my family", cutting him off and setting him straight. It might feel that way at the time, but that is not the real truth.

For all intents and purposes this presents itself as a genuine 'barfly on the wall' documentary, capturing the real lives and cross-talking interactions of these people in the space of a day. However... like many a tall tale told at a bar, that's not the whole truth of the matter. Despite first appearances, there's an element of structured reality at play here, with many of the "regulars" actually comprised of local actors, poets and performers, brought together to create something that blurs many a line, and not just due to the effects of alcohol. That's not to say that there's a Barney Gumble or Cheers' Norm here, as although you could politely describe a number of them as 'characters', they're never caricatures. It's not often that the boundaries of documentary appear stretched, with the possible exception of bartender's son, Tra, who drifts in and out of the story with his friends, hanging out in the alley outside the bar, seemingly with an ulterior motive that adds the closest we get to a traditional narrative structure when the camera switches to follow his antics.

It's cleverly constructed by brothers Bill and Turner Ross, who direct and handle the cameras themselves, floating around to get close to the often inconsequential conversations held around the bar, catching some snippets and missing others and using the mirror behind the bar to catch the smiles and hangdog expressions of the listeners. The camera crew is never acknowledged by the clientele (there are no interviews or even glances towards the lens), so the brief reflection of a camera lens in the mirror is the only time the ethereal presence of the camera crew is broken. As to what extent this is a depiction of reality, or a possible reality, is up to you to decide. What narrative there is never encroaches on the enjoyment of eavesdropping on these incredibly diverse, interesting people, and I found there to be enough truth in their words to make Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets an occasionally sad, but equally raucous and highly entertaining documentary, right up til closing time. And if if it does ruffle some feathers by defying the conventional boundaries of its genre? Well, I say cheers to that.


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