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Under the Radar DVD of the Week: 'Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World'

Dennis King Published: September 19, 2011

This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:

“Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World”

Scratch a hipster, find a tattoo. That seems to be the mantra that defines modern pop culture as generations of would-be scenesters, young and old, embrace the formerly forbidden and slightly seedy art of body tattooing. And the widely acknowledged godfather of this counterculture artform is profiled in the documentary “Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World,” due out on DVD Tuesday.

Filmmaker Emiko Omori’s biographical film charts the course of Hardy’s life from his California youth, when he used to draw fake tattoos on friends using eyeliner and colored pencils, through his brush with the fine art world, when he rejected an Ivy League scholarship and pursued a beatnik course as an art student in San Francisco. It follows his years as a tattoo artist in military ports around the world and notes the profound influence of master Japanese artists on his emerging body-art style.

And as it follows the growing influence of Hardy on other tattoo artists and the growth of his “brand” into a $500-million-a-year merchandising industry that includes everything from wine labels to fashion fragrances to chic T-shirts worn by the likes of Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and the like, the film takes pains to portray Hardy as a down-to-earth, mild-mannered guy unaffected by the pop-culture power he wields.

Through lengthy interviews with Hardy himself, backed up by a wealth of archival photos of hot rod days in Newport Beach, of sailors and carnies and their florid tattoos, of the works of such famed tattoo pioneers as Sailor Jerry Collins and Phil Sparrow, Omori’s film offers up a rich history of tattoo art as a formerly forbidden form of self decoration that has morphed into an odd expression of chic populism.

Of his tattoos, Hardy says, they “erases for me barriers of time, culture, ethnicity, but the reality is, it just brings art into people’s lives.”

“Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World” is unrated and runs 75 minutes. It’s being released by New Video Group.

- Dennis King