Directors: Bill Ross and Turner Ross
When we think of modern America and particularly Las Vegas we see corporate influence, and a country fractured by its political system. But what we rarely see is that for ordinary citizens barely anything has changed for the better in decades. Bill and Turner Ross’ new documentary Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets explores this in their stark but hopeful presentation of a day in the life of one local community centred around its bar.
The Roaring 20s bar has reached its final day after being a neighbourhood focal point for decades. For the customers and staff, one last hurrah as they gather where the TV is always on to mourn the end of an era and celebrate the connections they have formed. As the night draws on and everyone gets drunker, the mood shifts many times as the group share truths, provide support and pay tribute to their second home one last time.
From the beginning it is almost impossible to place Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets; the opening titles nod to sitcom Cheers with 70s style graphics while the grainy filming style and visual theme of the bar itself seems to no later than the 1980s. It is only slowly, through music clues that hint at tracks from every genre and era from the 1960s to the present that tell the audience that this is now. When customer Rikki Read mentions Facebook and later Bruce Hadnot, a veteran, discusses Trump that you finally realise where you are.
And this is a film about community so as Bill and Turner Ross move their cameras from conversation to conversation, events unfold in waves never looking for sensationalism or drama, just life itself. We listen to the whole group early in the afternoon watching gameshows together and singing with barman Marc Paradis, but the last evening unfolds as all alcohol-fuelled events do – people break off into intimate and sometimes maudlin individual conversations, they come together for speeches, arguments and dances, they cry, others crash-out in the bar or are helped home, and the viewer is on the next bar stool along, part of the action and history of this important place.
This is the world that Lynn Nottage wrote about in her acclaimed play Sweat, people at the end of the line, confined by decisions made without them and troubled by the aftermath of military action in recent decades in which several men served, of climate change and the older generation accepting the life they have lived, enjoying and subsequently destroying resources for those who follow. As the drink flows everyone is a regretful philosopher.
But the film is ultimately hopeful; it is about friendships that form between people who need, help and support one another, something you expect should outlast the destruction of bricks and mortar. Whether the Roaring 20s exists in the morning becomes secondary to the interactions and sense of solace between the locals of all ages and experiences.
This is the America we rarely see, one that feels excluded from the big decisions made by politicians and industry magnates but one that is everyday confined by an economic system that is leaving the people behind. That the party goes on till 5am is tribute to their spirit, that whatever happens to them there is music, conversation and friendship, at least for a time.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October