For most of us today ‘Sailor Jerry’ means two things. It’s the name of one of the most famous tattoo artists in the history of tattooing (but it’s the name only) and it’s a term to describe ‘old school’ motifs such as anchors, eagles and hearts. We read about Sailor Jerry and we toss ‘Sailor Jerry tattoos’ back and forth while discussing our own tastes and interests. Sounds quite empty, though. ‘Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry’ does a good job on reviving the character and showing us who this guy was.
The movie is a documentary and it portrays not only the character of Sailor Jerry himself but also shows his times and places he lived in, thus showing him in a broad, detailed context, pointing out what made him the way he was and what he made the way it is now.
Documentaries can be made in many ways and some of them are more interesting than others. The director of this one decided to go for combining both the fragments of the old films of the era in question (WWII and later) and interviews with the people who knew, admired and learned from Sailor Jerry to become famous tattoo artists later on. Among the people featured in the movie are such big names as Lyle Tuttle, Bob Roberts, Mike Malone and Don Ed Hardy who share their experiences with and memories about Sailor Jerry with passion and emotions. They describe the master with colors, swear words and emotions that they, obviously, still feel toward him. A few selected quotes by Sailor Jerry himself add some more depth to the movie and show (kind of ) first-hand what a colorful and strange personality he was.
A very good ‘performance’ is given here by Don Ed Hardy who talks not only about his master but also discusses the history of modern tattooing, pointing out important moments, people and influences within the movement. He also brings it to a more personal level with his own childhood memories, his own development as a tattoo artist and the goals he’d worked on. He sounds authentic and convincing and I definitely was able to forget about Don Ed Hardy merchandise and commercial crap he’s mostly associated with nowadays. Here I could see a great tattooist and historian, not a guy overexploited by the modern pop culture.
The movie is about 70 minutes long and the DVD also contains special features (director’s commentary, deleted scenes, letters from Sailor Jerry (only two but quite brilliant ones!) and theatrical trailer). The DVD is region 1 which might be quite inconvenient for people from other parts of the world but it’s worth watching and having in your collection of books and DVD’s on the subject.
Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, dir. Erich Weiss, 2009;