On the Road with Jacob Hanks—“Tattoo Nation,” the Movie
HOT TIME IN TINSELTOWN
I am clearly not a film critic or member of the press, but I was fortunate enough to get invited to the private screening of the new film, “Tattoo Nation,” at the Arclight Theatre, in Hollywood, California. For a younger tattoo artist like me, it was a pretty big deal. If you have not heard of “Tattoo Nation,” it is a documentary, directed by Eric Schwartz and written by John Corry, about the “true story” of the black-and-gray tattoo revolution, and features several of the tattoo icons, many of whom I was exposed to, as a little boy, with my father, tattooing in Southern California. That is where the film takes place, when three unlikely tattooers—Jack Rudy, Good Time Charlie Cartwright and Freddy Negrete—came together to become the innovators of modern, fine-line, black-and-gray tattooing. The story, narrated by Corey Miller, addresses how the prison style that originated with young Mexican Americans has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon, giving rise to many new styles and pushing the limits of the popularity of tattooing as we know it today.
With just a couple of days planning, I jumped at the opportunity to see the film and interview the cast. I traveled to Los Angeles and met up with the press for the media junket. Right away, Danny Trejo, the actor, walked by me and I said, “Hey Danny,” like I knew him, and he said, “Hey, man,” as if he forgot who I was and didn’t want to seem impolite. Before I knew it, the office was full of tattoo legends and collectors being interviewed by different television and camera crews, while cameras flashed away.
Pretending that I belonged there, I got to rub elbows with the likes of Ed and his son, Doug Hardy, Corey Miller, Freddy Negrete and his son “Boo Boo,” Jack Rudy and his wife Carrie, Tim Hendricks, David Oropeza and, of course, “The Founder” himself, Good Time Charlie Cartwright. It was truly a unique opportunity to have all these stars in one place and to hear their priceless stories, while they candidly conversed with each other. It was all sort of nostalgic for me, as it brought back the feeling of being around my father and uncle, while they tattooed and told tales with other veterans of that era.
I ended up leaving early, in order to make it on time to the premier. I was pleasantly surprised that my wristband from the earlier event granted me access to the red carpet area. It was better than television, as I blended in with the real photographers from tattoo magazines and media outlets. Notable was Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand, the only woman in the movie, and Pat Sinatra, another great female tattoo artist. I cannot explain how I felt, when these greats walked the carpet and were recognized in a positive light, after all of these years, by a media that has, so often, portrayed tattooing in a negative light. To me, it was a vindication, a validation for paving the way in an outlaw time, as newer tattooers ride the wave of success without ever knowing the history that made things the way they are. Without ever caring to learn the names of the artists who made it possible. This was the true innovators’ time to shine.
Inside, the screening was packed with tattooists from all over the world. When I turned around and scanned the theater I saw a who’s who of artists, icons who I had seen in magazines since I first could read. It was awe inspiring for me and, as the movie started, I still couldn’t believe I was in Hollywood sharing a part of tattoo history. The room respectfully quieted down, from beginning to end, except for widespread applause anytime anyone present was shown on screen, making the movie that much more powerful. There was cool, old, stock footage, as well as great interviews with celebrity collectors and artists such as Chuck Eldridge, Filip Leu, Henk Schiffmacher, Tennessee Dave, David Ororpaiso, the late, great Chuco, Travis Barker, Danny Trejo, Mister Cartoon, Mark Mahoney, Kore Flatmo, Tim Hendricks, Kate Hellenbrand, and of course Charlie, Jack and Freddy.
The audience was completely captivated. And when it was over, Corey Miller called Charlie, Freddy, Jack, Danny Trejo and Ed Hardy down front, to deliver a few remarks. Every word was thankful, humble and heartfelt. No one demonstrated an ounce of ego, even though their stardom had just risen through the roof. Good Time Charlie closed with a little gem, stating that we were all his real family. For me, it really truly felt like it.
Because it is in limited release, not a lot of people have seen this film. However, “Tattoo Nation” is being shown in Great Britain and will be released on DVD, on May 9th. No question about it, this is a must for any tattoo artist or collector who wants to learn the history and pay respects to the pioneers who blazed the trail. Pick up a copy. I know I will. Aloha, and thank you for your time.
—Jacob Hanks (Tattoos by Jacob Hanks)
Photos by Karen Criswell (Koncept Films)
P.S. Here’s a short, free YouTube video featuring Shanghai Kate, Corey, Good Time Charlie, Freddy Negrete, Danny Trejo and Ed Hardy.