Written by: Jamie Bernanke
Directed by: Kevin Bacher
Narrated by: Michael McGlone
Released by: Wellspring
Anamorphic: N/A, appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Rent It. If squeamish, avoid it.
Throughout his history, Man has employed many methods to change his appearance. From simply applying pigments on the face and uncomplicated piercing of the ears to complex tattoos and cosmetic surgeries, the methods are as various as the reasons we have to perform these acts of alteration. Body Art gives a survey of the how and why of body modification.
The major focus of this piece is tattooing. Its history goes from Polynesian tribesmen to American sailors to today’s mainstream. Even as tattooing has gone mainstream, there is still a sense of rebelling by getting one (Even in New York City, tattooing was just made legal in 1996). Japanese men who have received ‘irezumi’, a colorful, intricate, full body tattoo, can cause discrimination and loss of status. But wanting to be outside of the society is not the only reason people get tattoos. The motivations run the gambit from detailing family history to protection against evil to impressing chicks.
I should warn you, a lot of this documentary can cause an awful lot of cringing. Some of the extreme piercing that people inflict upon their bodies has to be seen to be believed. Of course, you might wish to have not seen them afterwards. What some people do to themselves for self-expression (stretching their earlobes) or for beauty (Chinese foot binding) can be disturbing for some people. But that’s one of the points of the documentary: what one person considers worthy of pain and effort, another would baulk at. The geisha may not appeal to Western eyes and not worth the time and effort to prepare, but Japanese men are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for her company. Another difference covered is with Western cultures, tattooing and piercing are forms of self-expressions, but tribal cultures use scarring and elaborate face painting as rituals to become part of the tribe.
Body Art doesn’t go into a lot of detail on the various subjects it covers. Some special features on the disc could have helped this, but they’re none to speak of. This disc does give you a taste of an interesting topic, but it leaves you wanting. And no one likes leaving the table hungry.