Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. Photo: Courtesy Sundance Institute Credit: Sundance Institute

Call me a big weirdo (it’s okay — it’s true, and I won’t be offended), but I’ve never understood the attraction of social drinking. Do I want to go out for drinks tonight? No thanks, I’d rather stay at home and enjoy a delicious glass of cold tap water. Not only will I avoid the rank odor of stale beer, I’ll save some money, too (I’m also a notorious tightwad).

Bill and Turner Ross’s Bloody Nose Empty Pockets (currently screening at the Virtual Roxie), in contrast, proudly embraces the fine art of getting plastered in public. Our ongoing public health crisis has, for better or worse, lent their film an additional layer of poignancy, its depiction of a seedy Las Vegas’ bar’s final night now playing like an obituary for a lost pastime.

The denizens of The Roaring 20s bar are a remarkable collection of down and outers: there’s Michael, an erudite former actor; John, an Australian giant who supplements his booze with (way too much) LSD; Pam, a 60-year old still proud of her figure, and a dozen others. They’re served and supervised by Mark, a guitar picking barkeep who plays a mean version of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’, and kindhearted single mom Shay.

*SPOILER WARNING: there’s a first time for everything, even spoiler warnings, and this film really does warrant one. If you want to experience Bloody Nose Empty Pockets cold, as I did, read no further. Have you stopped reading? Good. NO PEEKING!*

I went into BNEP assuming it was a documentary, and — despite onscreen clues that should have aroused my suspicion (what kind of local television station airs Battleship Potemkin?) — held my ground throughout. Such is the power of illusion: post-screening research revealed that the Ross brothers hired a group of professional barflies, gave them some situations and talking points, and let them improvise their way through the film’s two day shooting schedule.

The result is cinematic perfection, and the best bar-set feature (documentary or drama) since the unfortunately and unfathomably forgotten Some of My Best Friends Are… (1971). Bloody Nose Empty Pocket’s 98 minutes fly by, leaving you hungry for more: where will the regulars spend their remaining days, if not leaning against the Roaring 20s bar opening their hearts to their flawed, fractious, and loyal ’til death comrades?

Though it didn’t convince me to take up pub crawling, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets did convince me I’d just seen the best film of 2020. Even with five months to go, I’m comfortable with that assessment: the likelihood of encountering a film as revelatory, truthful, and perfectly structured as this one seems vanishingly small. Please don’t miss it.

Worthwhile rarities from the Pacific Film Archive

With the University of California now set to remain online for much of the fall term, it seems likely Pacific Film Archive’s Watch From Home series will continue for the rest of the year. The Archive continues to offer worthwhile rarities that are otherwise impossible to see, including The Great Communist Bank Robbery (2004), a fascinating documentary detailing the bizarre aftermath of a 1959 stick-up in Iron Curtain-era Romania, and Lee Grant’s Oscar-nominated Down and Out In America (1986), a shocking portrait of the effects of Reagan-era social and economic policies. Hear United Auto Workers’ organizer Bob Killeen claim “one of the best kept secrets in the United States in recent years is the de-industrialization of America”, and reflect on all that’s happened in the quarter century since.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...