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Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry is a feature length documentary exploring the roots of American tattooing through the life of its most iconoclastic figure, Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins. Considered by many the foremost tattoo artist of all time, Collins is the father of modern day tattooing, whose uncompromising lifestyle and larger than life persona made him an American legend. Through rare interviews, photographs and hours of archival footage, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life and Times of Norman Keith Collins, explores the past, present and future of the global tattooing phenomenon.
Based in Honolulu for most of his career, Sailor Jerry would come to symbolize the masculine ethos of a time when thousands of enlisted men were embanked in Hawaii, during World War II. Miles from home, ready to die, and fueled by devil-may care attitudes, these men went on shore leave with a single purpose in mind: to get "Stewed, Screwed and Tattooed."
Jerry marked these men with what would come to symbolize a new style of American folk art; tattoos that blended traditional elements of continental motifs with the finesse, shading, and artistic nuance of the Japanese tattoo masters, known as horis. Borne from his own years of travel on the high seas, Jerry synthesized the best of East and West and created a dynamic, spectacular new art form by introducing an array of his own advancements into tattooing, from color creation and machine building to the introduction of sterilization. Permanently etched on the bodies of the hundreds of men who passed through his Honolulu parlor, his work tells of war and heartache with a dedication to style, craft, and detail that would make 'Sailor Jerry’ one of the most influential, if little recognized, American folk artists of the 20th Century.
A man of many faces, Jerry was an intelligent, dark humored prankster with a fiercely independent mind. A pitiless, right wing, social libertarian, Jerry believed in freedom with a capital 'F' as symbolized by the secretive, closed world of back alley tattooing - or as he put it, "the ultimate rebellion against the squares."
In this film, the first of its kind, Sailor Jerry’s story and mystique is explored in depth through interviews with his peers and those he influenced, like protégées Don Ed Hardy and Mike Malone. Through their stories and shared memories, a dynamic tale is woven that chronicles the story of a great American artist whose work has never been displayed in museums, but on the bodies of those brave and fortunate enough to serve as Jerry’s canvas.