The first few minutes of Bloody Noses, Empty Pockets make you think it might be fiction. Then as the camera starts poking around the Roaring 20s, a grim-looking “cocktail bar” on the Las Vegas strip, using all the visual language of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, you start to think otherwise. And that’s how Bill and Turner Ross continue, as this odd little film unfolds. Do a little digging afterwards, and it turns out these barflies were all non-professional actors. The bar isn’t even in Las Vegas but New Orleans, where the Ross brothers are from.
Does it matter? Perhaps not. The film unfolds like the steamiest, booziest episode of Cheers you’ve ever seen, as these characters philosophize at the bar, drink, dance, slur their words and – at one point – even head out into the nearby parking lot and let off fireworks (a beautiful scene, all shot via CCTV-style black-and-white footage, with sparklers blazing like welding tools). With the entire movie filmed over two 18-hour sessions, the levels of realism the Ross brothers obtain is hugely impressive.
The film starts at 11am, as the bar opens, with permanent patron Michael (Michael Martin) asleep on the couch. He’s homeless and his survival method appears to be drinking himself into oblivion every night. As the day passes, more patrons come in – and the drinks start flowing. The day-time bartender, with a huge beard, entertains the crowd with his guitar and a tender version of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’. Most of the time, they just chew the fat.
Music plays incongruously in the background – Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’ and even the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ – as time just seems to drift in this film. Gradually, characters come into focus, like evening bar-keep Shay (Shay Walker), who has a rowdy teenage son to deal with, making trouble with his friends in the parking lot outside.
In the final hours, with time ticking past 4.41am, as the caption notes, the atmosphere turns sour, as alcohol-fueled debate turns into belligerent argument. Anyone whose been in a bar after hours will know the drill. But the Ross siblings do capture the stench of regret and failure very well. When Michael is turfed out, picking up his worldly goods with nowhere to go, it feels like a sobering moment at the end of another liver-damaging night.
Bloody Noses, Empty Pockets is available in cinemas and on demand from 1 January. For more details, click here.