Over the last 20 years or so tattoo work has completely exploded. What was once considered punk rock or biker rebellious is now a fairly common look seen on people from all walks of life. I’d be curious to see a breakdown of overall percentages of how many people in the U.S. alone have tattoos and what the demographic breaks down into in terms of gender, race and age. That would be a fascinating documentary. Filmmaker Jon Reino has taken a smaller approach to looking at the tattoo lifestyle in his short doc “The Tattoo Life: The Rich Cahill Documentary,” where he follows a local tattoo artist from his earnest beginnings to now, where tattooing is hugely popular.
Reino definitely has a good eye for the camera. The opening shots in the film are clearly staged but I like the way they set a cool, mellow tone for the piece as we see Cahill walking off to work at his tattoo shop. From there we find out how Cahill got his start and we meet friends and colleagues who have had a similar rise in the tattoo community. However, the big flaw in this film (and no offense to Cahill) is that his story just isn’t all that intriguing. Cahill’s an extremely talented artist and I found him to have a nice, warm personality but this is essentially a story about a local tattoo artist and not too much more.
Reino peppers the short with interesting characters who get tattooed by Cahill, most notably the local police chief. And again, Cahill is a very, very good artist. He talks about the days of yesteryear where he had to make his own needles and ink, which I found interesting because, obviously, tats weren’t as commonplace 20-30 years ago and you really couldn’t order things off the internet. This was something I’d never thought about before but aside from mentioning it, we never find out how these things were made which could have added an interesting layer to the film.
“The Tattoo Life: The Rich Cahill Documentary” is an enjoyable film that’s shot very well and features a nice soundtrack. It’s a bit on the long side and again, it’s basically a biopic of one man’s work as a tattoo artist. I liked it well enough and was really impressed by the artistry of both tattoo artist Cahill and filmmaker Reino, but the story here wasn’t all that compelling and the runtime was a bit long.
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