The Inky Shortcut

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
May 15, 2013 /

Click here to view original /


While Home and Away isn’t on my regular rotation, I laughingly remember the TV ads in the lead up to the arrival of The River Boys. In place of chest hair these lads had tattoos. A clue, seemingly, to just how dramatically they’d shake things up.

And it was the River Boys and tattoos and cheap and nasty costuming shortcuts that plagued me while watching The Place Beyond the Pines last weekend.

Blue Valentine and Drive are two of my favourite films. I also quite enjoyed The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Sure, there’s a Ryan Gosling connection there, but good films are about much more than any one actor. The God-awful Gangster Squad a case in point. Neither Gosling nor Emma Stone could have saved that wretched turkey.

Pines isn’t a bad film. It’s too long, and if you’re going to commit the cardinal cinema sin of randomly jumping ahead fifteen years you need a) a bloody good reason and b) a way to do it elegantly – both missing in Pines – but it was okay. Okay enough if you appreciate carnies, a dancing dog and a bit of Bon Iver on the credits.

But good God did the costuming irk me. That I even noticed this in a non-Merchant Ivory vehicle is testimony to something thoroughly bizarre going on.

The heinous Guy Fieri dye-job aside, apparently what marked Luke (Ryan Gosling) as a bad ass were his tattoos. Tattoos and moth-devoured t-shirts worn – wait for it, wait for it – inside out.


The character had no presence, no decent dialogue and nothing else to mark him as even slightly foreboding. So the tatts provided the shortcut.

In Drive – a logical comparison because of Gosling and because both films were premised on the what-now of a former stunt driver/rider who decides to play papa – the build up to the violent explosion was slow, steady and delivered through superbly economical writing, staging and Gosling’s perfectly paced performance. (And his toothpick).

Many corners were cut in Pines and there simply wasn’t enough meat in Luke to make his explosion believable. So his skin was inked because once upon a time that connoted something about badness. And danger. And renegade cool.

Apparently the film-marker is unaware that it’s 2013.

A conversation with a man a few months ago centered on his fetish (my word, not his) for tattooed ladies. Personally I’m neither pro-tatt nor anti-tatt: I simply see them as a commodity akin to jewellery or a logo-ed T-shirt. They’re something we can go out and buy and therefore, inferring anything more about an inked person – that they are more interesting or more sexy or more scary – is farcical.

Yet Pines was totally premised on assumptions about tattooed folk. The film needed the audience to see Luke’s ink and hastily draw conclusions. Apparently a Metallica t-shirt and some body ink is all that’s needed for audiences to have an “oh, right he’s bad to the bone” epiphany.

Statistics are flawed since there’s no registry, but lots and lots and lots of people have tattoos. Long gone are the days when ink was the branding of sailors and brutes and sexual deviants and prisoners.

So in a world where every hipster and his dog is inked, surely a costumer can be a tad more clever than this.

© Lauren Rosewarne