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Movie review: ‘Tattoo Nation’ doc studies art form’s mark on U.S.

Tattoo artist Mark Mahoney works on Danny Trejos' back in "Tattoo Nation."
(D&E Entertainment)

The documentary “Tattoo Nation” deftly chronicles the journey of modern tattoo artistry in the United States as it moved from the margins to the mainstream. Director Eric Schwartz, aided by writer-producer John Corry, writer-editor Marco Jakubowicz and narrator Corey Miller (TLC’s “L.A. Ink”), has crafted a vivid portrait that should satisfy aficionados and intrigue the curious. Ink-averse viewers, however, may remain unsold.

Once mainly the province of servicemen, gang members, drug addicts and convicts, tattoos are now de rigueur (an estimated 45 million Americans have at least one). The filmmakers focus largely on how, in the 1950s and ‘60s, the black and gray tattoo style began to blossom among segments of the East L.A. Chicano culture, eventually spawning a movement of self-expression — and color — that spread far beyond its Whittier Boulevard epicenter.

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Schwartz fleshes out his story using strong archival footage, copious shots of vibrant, complex tattoos — both finished and in-process — plus interviews with such seminal tattoo artists as Jack Rudy, Freddy Negrete, Charlie Cartwright, Ed Hardy, Mister Cartoon and Kate Hellenbrand. Tattoo devotees including actor Danny Trejo and musician Travis Barker also weigh in.

Decidedly more celebration than exposé, the movie bypasses such practical issues as health risks, tattoo addiction and remorse, and the pain and expense — and increasing popularity — of tattoo removal.

calendar@latimes.com

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‘Tattoo Nation’

Rating: No MPAA rating

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Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: At Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood; AMC’s Ontario Mills 30; AMC’s Norwalk 20

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