Review: Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry Screening at Miami Art Space, October 27

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Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry Screening
Miami Art Space, Wynwood, Miami
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Better Than: Shopping for remaindered Ed Hardy clothes in that sad sample sale/clearance trailer on US1 down south.

The Review:

Last night's screening of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, a fun documentary about the tattoo innovator's life and times, was characterized by a crowd of people drunk as, well, sailors (as they say). Take a Wynwood locale and add the promise of free booze on a Tuesday night, and you're just inviting foolishness. While things started out rather calmly, with people sipping Sailor Jerry brand spiced rum (yum), the ambient volume increased proportionally with everyone's blood alcohol level.

Bartenders' pours were generous -- so generous, my breath was probably flammable and I started to lose motor control about a third of the way through drink number one. Thus, by the time the actual documentary was set to go on, keeping people quiet and corralled was pretty much a lost cause.

There were clearly a lot of hardcore tattoo lifestyle types there, and they crowded eagerly into the front rows of seats for the screening. There were a lot of outer-Ed-Hardy-universe-type hangers-on too, though, and they sat in the back. Sadly, I sat in the middle, which meant a lot of that background chatter drowned out the narration for me.

Still, the documentary itself was entertaining, painting a vivid picture of tattoo culture among the military stationed in Hawaii in the '40s and onward. An opening shot of a buzzing tattoo needle drew cheers, as did salty text interludes drawn from Sailor Jerry's own papers and letters. Interview segments from legendary (and legendarily crusty) tattooist couple Philadelphia Eddie and Penny Funk also went down to whoops and laughter. Once can only hope to be as cool as those two in 50 years.

The film also served as a welcome reminder that Don Ed Hardy was and is, actually, a tattoo innovator in his own right. It's absolutely his fault for letting a Frenchman buy the rights to his name and then ruin its luster with the abuse of rhinestones. But the film showed the actual man's connection to Sailor Jerry, and his resulting contributions to the development of tattooing.

Only that hardcore front half of the audience made it through the whole movie, however. People leaked out slowly starting at the 30-minute mark, and things got messier from there. About three quarters of the way through, an actual fight broke out at the back of the audience; close to the end, a guy in line for the bathroom straight-up keeled over. The crappiest part about this is that these were likely the scene-y hangers-on. Tattoo collectors and artists are respectful as hell of tattoo history and, contrary to popular belief, wouldn't act that rowdy under the circumstances. Unfortunately, the behavior of a few makes the whole culture look bad.

Regardless, the film itself proved worth a viewing, and afterward, Jacuzzi Boys took the stage in the venue's back patio. This was a rare instance in which the band was clearly not as drunk as the people watching, and though the sound was fine, it didn't matter too much. I guess this qualified as a pretty fun night, although I suspect many of those in attendance won't clearly remember why.

Side note: Shortly after, I headed over to the Night of Weirds one-off at the American Legion bar in Legion Park, in Miami's Upper Eastside. I stuck around for a set by Boise Bob and his Backyard Band, a sort of ironic-hillybilly act whose strumming ability seems just a couple steps above that of the Shaggs. Not sure if that is on purpose or not, and if that makes the band "good" or "bad." But the event was certainly well attended, even in those relatively early hours, for Miami (10 - 11 p.m.), and that was refreshing.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I've sat through a decent number of sometimes painful hours under the needle, so I get annoyed when drunken idiots make all of us look like cretins.

Random Detail: Organizers arranged buoys, ropes, and other random weathered sailing debris around the flash on display, for that extra maritime flavor.

By the Way: Even if, in large quantities, it makes people rowdy, that Sailor Jerry spiced rum is pretty tasty.

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