Tribal tattooing is popular as a choice for a tattoo in a movie as the monochrome coloring and bold lines make it read well for the camera. The modern style known as tribal is mostly due to the tattoo work of Leo Zulueta. He began tattooing in the late 80s, working on punks in the Los Angeles area and music scene. Artist Ed Hardy shared a notebook with him, depicting traditional designs from Borneo, especially the Dyak tribes, and Zulueta began to heavily base his style on their designs. Just about everything you see designed as a “tribal tattoo” these days is an improvisation on a Zulueta interpretation of traditional Bornean Dyak tattoo designs.
The fragment of tattoo you see on Brad Pitt’s hand in OCEAN'S ELEVEN is this same style. All you get is a few trailing ends of black curvilinear lines coming out of this shirt cuff. But that bold graphic look has sent people scouring the web for more, and down to the tattooists asking for the same designs.
One of the most asked about tribal tattoos in the movies is the fragment you see coming out of George Clooney’s shirt neckline in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. For the entire movie, at least until the last five minutes or so, that’s all you get. This brief bit peeking out has a nagging effect. Does that tattoo go down his arm? How far does that thing do down his arm? What the heck does the rest of it look like?
The movie follows the criminal Gecko brothers, Seth (Clooney) and Richard, nee Ritchie (Quentin Tarantino) as they battle vampires in a Mexican trucker and biker bar. The screenplay was written by Tarantino and directed by Richard Rodriguez (Desparado and Sin City)
Sadly, the tattoo is another visual throwaway. It has nothing to do with the plot. Nothing specific is communicated about the character of Seth Gecko through this design, and it is not the sort of work done in prison. It would seem the writers and producers decided they needed yet another way to imply the character was a big ol’ badass with poor impulse control and that a big tattoo would do just that.
For the whole movie, Clooney’s character wears a sport coat, covering the sleeve design. Production stills from the movie show him on the set in a vest with the neck fragment of tattoo and a bare arm. Chances are the only time the entire design was painted was for those final shots outside the destroyed cantina.
The design is a stylized flame design, extending from the shoulder all the way down to just above the wrist. Looking at the photo of the inner arm, the design stops along the visible edges of the arm, skipping the inside surfaces. The makeup used for this is a theatrical makeup that requires a kerosene-based makeup remover. If you really want a tattoo like this one, the tattooist to see would be Gill "The Drill" Montie, credited as the tattoo artist for the movie.
Actor Danny Trejo who plays Razor Charlie is wearing his own skin art. The actor had a rough youth, spending eleven years in and out of jail. His tattoos are a mix of Chicano and prison style. They serve him well in many of his villianous and criminally-oriented movie appearances.
For you movie trivia fans, the flame tattoo makes a "cameo" appearance in another Robert Rodriquez film, THE FACULTY. If you watch carefully, you can see a bit of it on the neck of a high school girl in a scene towards the beginning of the film. The bit part character is played by Rodriquez' sister.
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From Dusk Til Dawn directed by Quentin Tarantino.