Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry is a kick ass documentary that pulls you into the life and times of legendary 20th century tattoo artist Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins. It combines archival footage with interviews of prominent tattoo artists, some who knew Collins well, to bring “Sailor Jerry” and his tumultuous times back to full screaming life. The main bulk of Jerry’s artistic life was spent in pre/post-WWII Honolulu in a seedy district of the capital; his main clientele were sailors who were on shore leave ready to get “screwed, stewed and tattooed.” It’s a fringy, marginal existence like Bukowski with Hawaiian shirts and ocean waves, and Erich Weiss, the writer/director of the film, captures the live-for-today freedom of the setting well. He also gets the lasting import of Collins’ art—and art is what it is. “Sailor Jerry” took his own unique and masculine American aesthetic, fused it with the intricacies of traditional Japanese tattoo artists (the Hori) to arrive at designs of unsurpassed beauty and wit. They put to shame most of the stuff being manufactured in today’s tattoo shops. Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry serves as another artful reminder of the increasing homogenization of American Culture and the authentic masters we are losing year after year, most whose legacy won’t be bolstered by a wonderful film such as this.
Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, IndiePix. 73 min. Unrated. List Price $24.95. Releases Oct. 13.