Walk into any coffee shop or pub around Melbourne and it’ll probably take you about five seconds to see a tattoo that owes much of its existence to Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins.

The grandfather of classic American tattooing (think sailors, pin-up girls and sardonic humour), Sailor Jerry has inspired everyone from protégé and tattoo legend-cum-Jersey Shore megabrand Ed Hardy to Melbourne artist BLOKK since he started inking sailors on Honolulu’s infamous Hotel Street in the 40s and 50s.

Showing as part of ACMI’s First Look program dedicated to all things rebellious, Erich Weiss’s documentary Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry takes a look at the man and the myth from the perspectives of those who knew him best.

Part salt-seasoned philosopher, part social libertarian, part innovator – but always a troublemaker – Weiss’ film reveals a rough-edged renaissance man.

“He was an autodidact,” says Weiss. “He spoke Chinese and played the saxophone and was really into a lot of the Asian philosophies as well. These are things you would not expect from a guy that had this vocation.”

Featuring interviews with American tattoo royalty Mike Malone (now deceased), Zeke Owen, Eddie Funk, Lyle Tuttle and Ed Hardy, Hori Smoku is not a run-of-the-mill life story.

“I went into this not trying to make a straight-up biography,” says Weiss. “I wanted it to be more the mythology of someone – how people embellish and create these characters.

“Interviewing his protégés and people that worked for him and were influenced by him, I think you get a good sense of his overall mythology –probably not so much who this guy really was – but what he was projected as.”

Brash, entertaining and a must see for anyone interested in the history of tattoo culture or the progression of classic American tattoo design, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry runs at ACMI from November 10 to 13.

acmi.net.au