Free Ink, Free Drinks, Sailor Jerry at Filmstreams
It is a rare and special thing to watch a movie with an entire theater you know has been drinking. Such was the case Monday night, July 19th at Film Streams, for a special screening of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life of Norman K. Collins.
Collins, better known as Sailor Jerry, was a WWII-era veteran and a mid-century tattoo pioneer. Long since passed, he has, like some other staunch individualists of the last century (Che Guevara, Johnny Rotten, Banksy) become a brand. Luckily, his brand extends to 92 proof Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Navy Rum (informed from a recipe of his own creation), and for the price of a mere online sign-up, the stewards of the Sailor’s legacy made merry, passing out free drink tokens and popcorn, filling the Film Stream’s main screen to capacity on what might otherwise have been a listless Monday night.
Complimentary pictures and booze surely attracts the destitute and dipsomaniacal, but when our attractive, inked hostess (picture above) called the crowd into the theater, I noticed more than a few sporting tattoos in Sailor Jerry’s iconic, retro style. Our collective buzz extended through the opening credits—an F___ Hollywood Production—lingering laughs and plangent whistles the by-product of a Dark and Stormy or three among friends.
A biopic’s highest calling is to convince you of its reason for being, and during the course of 90 or so minutes, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry does just that. From the reverent tones employed, clearly, he mattered. A rough, under-educated, merchant marine with racist leanings, Collins is revealed as an intelligent, pioneering student of the art. Filled with the kind of swearing septuagenarians you wish were a friend’s grandfather—but possibly not yours—the picture is both an easy watch and a decent Hawaiian history lesson.
When the film finally shows itself to be a Daniel-san/Miyagi tale of East meets West tattooing, mentoring, and betrayal, you can almost forgive mentee Ed Hardy—he of overpriced T-shirt fame—for his later life transgressions: like the rest of the hard talking, whisky-throated characters that populate the film, Hardy was an iconoclast, but only as innovative as the master, Sailor Jerry, the man that everyone agrees started it all.
Following the film, the after party carried on at the Slowdown. Unfortunately, your humble narrator was unable to stay long enough to see the musical acts, Brimstone Howl and The Prairies: any more free rum—by now flowing liberally—and this review might never have achieved permanence.
No danger of this for Sailor Jerry. Like his ink, his legacy is indelibly intact.