The 12-minute film can be found at Vimeo and includes interviews with seven people named Rick Gadde, Maria Melnik, Frank Reid, Bruce Stewart, Bernice Williams, Monica Branson, and “Chappy.” They all received their first tattoos at ages ranging from the teens all the way up to the sixties. Bernice even gets her first ink in the documentary itself.
Stories that surround those first tattoos come from the depths of those individual’s lives. Each person tells a tale of heartbreak, death, joy, spontaneity, or curiosity that eventually led them to the tattoo parlor. The images include a small, backward “Z,” a rooster, a snake, mushrooms, the name of a spouse, the name of a late husband, and an image of a woman sitting on a tombstone.
The documentary is just a series of clips that follow each of the above characters. They appear allowed to speak at their leisure and tell the tales that surround the markings on their skin. Each person begins by providing a detail of his or her first tattoo, and many expand on those stories to provide a background about their reasons for getting other images or for having some removed.
Each consecutive story builds on the last. No single person tells more than one story in a row, so there are gaps between when Bruce and Monica, for instance, have a second go-around. That staggered nature, however, does more to build the suspense than one might first think. The film begins at a slow pace, but the intrigue of each character grows throughout; by the end, the viewer wants more.
Even with the sadness contained in some of what viewers hear, there is a happy ending in Bernice’s simple quote: “Actually, I don’t have a tattoo. I always wanted one… never had enough nerve to do it.”
Then, on film, she shows the development of her red-yellow-black butterfly. “I think I’m a butterfly, at this stage of my life now,” she says. “For sure.”
“I think I’m beautiful now. I like who I am, and I’m happy.”
The others echo her sentiment and seem proud to have their own tattoos, their own stories, and their own lives. It ends on a high note. One without regret.
Featured Image: Richiebits via Wikimedia Commons.