Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry Review

Mts2 647990 Spacedoll Sailor Jerry Flash-1Thanks for checking out our review of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry. This was my favorite documentary of SXSW and due to a haze of forgetfulness – I am getting it up now!

The General Idea

Official synopsis from horismokumovie.com: 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.

The Good

This documentary has a warts and all approach to telling the tale of Sailor Jerry. As much as the people involved in this project admired the man, there is no escaping the fact that he was a crotchety, opinionated, ornery son of a bitch. There was as much, or more to dislike about the man than there was to like – but his artistic talent, vision and contributions to the craft cannot not be ignored; nor could the honesty in which he lived his life. He was who he was, and if you didn’t like it – well, I believe he would say Fuck You.

The documentary involves a pantheon of Tattoo greats, many of them the peers and foes of Sailor Jerry (when he walked the earth). Everyone had a story to tell about the man. From his ridiculous pranks to his military past, starting up his first tattoo shop and his hatred for communists – with each story another brush stoke is added to the picture, and allows us to know a man that is no longer with us. Friend and foe came together in resounding praise for the man’s contribution to the art of tattooing. From incorporating asian influence to sterilizing needles; Sailor Jerry was always a step ahead of everyone else, and blazed the trail for all who follow.

The tattoo has a special place in American Folk art. My tattoo artist Justin Winstanley will talk at great length about the history of the craft and its important place in the pantheon of art. It was cool to to see these seasoned veterans recount their stories from back in the day and echo Justin’s thoughts and sentiments about the medium. The passing of the torch, and the imparting of knowledge is an essential part of this industry. This documentary discusses the strong disdain that many artists have for the growing popularity of tattoos. With so many shops opening, hacks are getting hired and the art suffers for it. Tattooing is the work of skilled artisans, and should be done with the same respect that a sculptor or sword-smith would demand.

The Bad

This isn’t the fault of the filmmakers, but I wish there was more footage of sailor Jerry. After hearing so many crazy stories about the man, I had a yearning to see more him on the screen. C’est la vie.


This is a tale about an american master smith and the contributions he has made to an art that will be around as long as we have skin. This film is short and tight at 77 minutes. It’s all killer – no filler and out of 10, give it an 8.5.

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