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'Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets' Gets To The Truth Through The Side Door


The latest movie from acclaimed documentary filmmakers Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV, called Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, was a sensation at last year’s Sundance Festival, and when you step back and look at what they’ve done, it’s kind of astonishing. The movie takes place in a dive bar in Las Vegas on the night before it closes for good, and simply follows the people who call the place “home,” for lack of a better word. In a breezy, freewheeling style, the brothers capture what is, in a way, the last night before the apocalypse.

But it’s one thing to have the footage, it’s another to know what to do with it. And the way the film is constructed is jaw-dropping—the Rosses find such humanity in what they’ve captured, and the movie pulses with the ebb and flow of the rhythms of the day and night. It’s almost as if they play the bar patrons like musical instruments within the concert hall of the bar, evoking joy, pathos, and an uncommon understanding of what makes people people.

But, I guess I’m obligated to tell you something that I really don’t want to, because I worry it’ll take the focus away from the beauty of this film—it’s not totally, 100% non-fiction. The bar is in New Orleans, not Las Vegas, and as far as I know, it’s still open. The bar regulars are bar regulars, just not from this bar. The Rosses knew many of them already, and met others as they prepared for the film, and cast them in a sort of manufactured environment so they could create the likelihood, though not the certainty, of certain conversations and feelings. Now, what you see is real-- it’s not scripted, and the participants had only the slightest wisp of direction. And the Rosses have been extremely open about this process, they’re not trying to fool anyone.

So, does it matter? That shouldn’t even be the point. Still, I’d rather see something that resonates with emotional truth, even if it’s slightly influenced, as opposed to what Werner Herzog calls “the truth of accountants.” Because what do we want other than to learn about ourselves? Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is as real as anything you’re going to see, it’s not important how you get there.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.