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Case Number 22361: Small Claims Court

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Ed Hardy: Tattoo The World

Docurama // 2010 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // September 24th, 2011

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The Charge

Love Kills Slowly

The Case

That Ed Hardy has become the most famous tattoo artist in the world has come as a surprise to some people, most notably Hardy himself. With $700,000,000 in worldwide sales, Ed Hardy merchandise has become an empire, yet the man at the center of it all seems genuinely nonplused. How could tattoo art, deemed so disreputable and lowbrow when he first began, become so lucrative and respected?

Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World is an excellent documentary that explains who Ed Hardy is and how he became so popular. What emerges, significantly, is that Hardy, far from being a one-dimensional uncultured cretin that he's been depicted as, is an assiduous student of art history who traveled the world and incorporated various artistic styles and techniques into tattooing. In doing so, he took tattooing from simple flowers, hearts, and anchors to an art form by incorporating art from Asia, Mexico, and classic artists like Picasso and Goya. Hardy made tattooing so respected that tattoo artists became considered like other conventional artists worthy of being exhibited in galleries, anthologized in art journals, and written about in academic circles. Back when Hardy first started tattooing in the mid-'60s, polite society decreed that only roughnecks and outlaws got tattoos. Now tattooing is more mainstream than ever, and Hardy's work is as big as reason as any for that.

Tattoo the World gives a good portrait of Hardy's life and work. Directed by Emiko Mori (Rabbit in the Moon), the film goes into Hardy's life as a budding young artist (he used to draw fake tattoos on his schoolyard friends as a child) and his affection for outlaw culture. Born in California in 1945, Hardy loved drawing, surfing, hot rods, and exploring other cultures. All of that came together in tattooing, which he viewed as a new art form that had never really been explored before. The documentary shows how Hardy earned a degree at the San Francisco Art Institute but chose to focus on using his artistic education to become a tattoo artist. Interestingly, as the documentary makes clear, Hardy's rise was hardly meteoric. Though he was a pioneer in creating tattoo parlors that were professional, well-run, full of skilled artists and elaborate designs, and carefully maintained (all virtually unheard-of in the mid-'60s), he struggled to find customers. Slowly, however, he eventually built up a different kind of clientele, a literate and hip crowd that didn't usually get tattooed. The documentary also shows how Hardy's artistic evolution helped cement his status. As he became more adept at incorporating his multiple influences into his art, his designs became more elaborate and his techniques became more skillful. Though he has always lived a modest life, he is justly proud of his work and how he almost singlehandedly turned tattooing into a respected art form.

There are a couple of small omissions. One is that it would have been interesting to hear from Hardy's customers about why they like his work. Mori herself has several Hardy tattoos and discusses why she got them, but she's the only one. There are pictures of some of Hardy's clients (including famous ones like director Werner Herzog), but there are no interviews where they explain what it is in Hardy's art that appealed to them. Also, the documentary glosses over the recent merchandising blitz that has made Hardy's work so ubiquitous. Hardy himself makes it clear that he has little control over the marketing, apart from approving designs. Still, it would have been fascinating to hear from him about what he thinks of seeing his formerly outlaw art finding its way onto children's apparel at shopping malls across America. It's an interesting question but the documentary never asks it.

Nonetheless, these are minor flaws. Overall, Tattoo the World does an excellent job of explaining who Ed Hardy is and how he developed his unique style. It also serves as a good history of how tattoo art became so respected in modern pop culture. Anyone who is fascinated with the history of tattoo art in America, and Ed Hardy's work in particular, should give it a look.

The DVD is well-presented. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and stereo sound mix are both solid, with only some of the archival footage looking and sounding a bit rough. The disc comes with over an hour of bonus interviews and footage that are worth seeing, since they add more details to the story. Also included are four temporary Ed Hardy tattoos for your enjoyment.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Docurama
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Footage


• IMDb
• Official Site
• The Don Ed Hardy Archive

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