CINEMA Inked: Tattoo on the silver screen.

Extras - Issue 11

Even though the tattoo culture was introduced to the West, through sea ports by the  Natives, it has nevertheless become part of today’s everyday life, no longer considered a taboo by that section of society that has blinkers to anything different. As a result, even though it is an art form in itself, it interacts with and is reflected in all other art forms, from painting to the cinema.  

Ranging from full length films made with the aim of paying tribute to the art of tattooing and to its biggest artist in the world, to short films with characteristic body designs which have remained imprinted in our memory, the following mini tribute by HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine will present a wide range of tattoo culture aspects in the seventh art – its context, its content, its use as a dramaturgical instrument or even just as simple work of art.

By Eirini Katsara
English Translation by Pavlos Demertzis – Bouboulis 

Tattoo (1981)


Bruce Dern from the recent film ‘Nebraska’ is Karl Kinsky, a tattoo artist who undertakes the task of ‘drawing’ on models for a photo shoot and ends up being obsessed with one of them. His sole goal becomes to ‘mark’ her for life… Directed by Bob Brooks, Dern was nominated for a Golden Raspberry for worst actor. Unfortunately, in the minds of the public and critics, ‘Tattoo’ wasn’t able to become a contemporary – for its time – ‘Moju’ by Yasuzo Masumura.

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The mark of Cain (2001)


Filmed in some of the most notorious Russian prisons, the documentary by Alix Lambert was warmly welcomed by critics, because of its unique directorial outlook which captures the semantics of Russian prison tattoos and also the ambiguous aesthetics of this carnal form of art in juxtaposition to the violent characteristics of the penal – correctional environment. The tile is allegorical, borrowed from the book of Genesis. The symbolism of the tattoo as a means of ‘social networking’ for the criminally indicted Russians which was considered taboo due to its banning by a law regarding penal institutions in the country is thoroughly examined. It was also screened in Greece during the Documentary Festival of Thessaloniki in 2001.  

Available on YouTube. First part:

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Tattoo (2002)



In Robert Schwentke’s (R.I.P.D., Red) 2002 German thriller, a serial killer hunts and skins people who have tattoos on their bodies. Two guys undertake the task of solving these serial murders, but will realize that nothing is truly as it first seemed… It echoes David Fincher’s ‘Seven’ and Jonathan Demme’s ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Very intense and with a lot of suspense, it’s perfect to pass the time. 

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The Tattooist (2007)


Jake Sawyers is a tattoo artist who roams the world in search of the deep semantics in his designs and for the Samoan tatau. And somewhere along the way, in a parallel universe, he will also begin his journey into the supernatural world… It is an interesting co-production between Singapore and New Zealand, with reference to movies such as ‘Psycho’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ and also more epic features such ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’.

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Tattooed (2008)


An independent documentary about the art of the tattoo, directed by Declan Maynes, who bought a camera and decided to take a break from his duties as a tattoo studio manager in Vienna and traveled the world meeting and ‘capturing’ some of the most celebrated tattoo artists in the world, such as Paul Booth, Danny Bullman, Bernie Luther, Lal Hardy and Filip Leu but also band members from Life of Agony, Steve Vai Band, Devildriver, Cancer Bats, As I Lay Dying, Misfits, Comeback Kid and Machine Head. It was screened at the Mammoth Film Festival in California with good feedback from the audience but unfortunately is not online.

Tattoo Nation (2013)


Director Eric Schwartz, in his 2013 documentary - styled film ‘Tattoo Nation’, captures the portraits of tattoo art pioneers Charlie Cartwright, Jack Rudy and Freddy Negrete and the transition of Black & Grey tattoos from underground and outlaws to a more acceptable social frame, how it began on the sidelines – seaports, sailors and prisons – and ended up in mainstream urban culture. Starring Danny Trejo (aka Machete).

Trailer here:

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Memorable tattoo designs can be found on countless actors in as many films. From Harry Powel’s ‘Love and Hate’ tattoos in ‘The Night of the Hunter’ (1959) and the old-school sci-fi “The Illustrated Man’ (1969), to George Clooney’s tribal-studded Seth character in Rodriguez’s ‘From Dusk till Dawn’ or Robert de Niro in Martin Scorsese’s remake of ‘Cape Fear’ to Veerle Baeten’s beautiful performance in the Oscar nominated foreign language film ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ by Felix van Groeningen and Guy Pearce as Leonard in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’. 

The list doesn’t stop here but continues with David Fincher’s commercial success ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, Ed Helms' facial Maori tattoo – a copy of Mike Tyson's – in ‘The Hangover Part II’ (2011), Viggo Mortensen’s tattoos in David Cronenberg’s ‘Eastern Promises’ or the TV series ‘Prison Break’ starring Wentworth Miller sporting a total back piece - escape plan and Edward Norton in ‘American History X’.

Of course, we can’t not mention the series ‘Sons of Anarchy’, Mila Kunis’ back tattoo in Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’, Ralph Fiennes’ tattoos in ‘Red Dragon’, Brad Pitt in ‘Snatch’ sporting his a chest tattoo with his mum, the cobra on Snake Plissken’s (aka Kurt Russel) stomach in ‘Escape from New York’, Val Kilmer' backpiece and sleeve tattoo in ‘The Salton Sea’ and the ‘Veritas Aequitas’ tattoo in ‘The Boondock Saints’ in 1999.

The Night of the Hunter



The Illustrated Man

the illustrated man


From Dusk till Dawn


Cape Fear


The Broken Circle Breakdown





Eastern Promises


Sons of Anarchy


Black Swan


Red Dragon

Red Dragon



Escape from New York


The Boondock Saints