Properly free of Hollywood gloss, this independent 16mm feature sympathetically portrays sexually-exploited runaway teens fending for themselves in an unspecified Midwest city.
Bisexual hustler Sam (C. J. Barkus) never got over seeing his brother die in an accident caused by their mother's alcoholism. Now, too mature to appeal to most johns, Sam reluctantly pimps younger runaways while watching out for their welfare. His headstrong 17-year-old girlfriend Arizona (Amandda
Tirey) urges Sam to leave town with her for a better life.
A recent arrival on the streets is the naive, possibly schizoid, Shane (Matthew James), 14 and appealing meat for paying perverts. Sam, Arizona and Shane's quasi-family unit is disrupted by Sam's old cohort Fagin (Howard Shook), now working for an East Coast underground network that supplies
children to molesters. Despite the money offered, Sam refuses any deal. But Fagin indoctrinates Shane anyway, marking him like cattle with the syndicate's tattoo symbol. Sam catches up with Fagin, beats him and steals his bankroll. Shane, sought for vehicular assault on his parents, is caught by
police before he can rendezvous with Sam and Arizona at their departing bus. Fagin revives to find his face vengefully tattooed by Sam.
Filmed in the Dayton, Ohio area, this debut feature from 22-year-old Larry Smith (allegedly a filmmaker from the age of seven) tackles its harrowing subject with an uneasy mixture of realism and awkward melodrama. It's no coincidence the bad guy is named Fagin, and his fisticuffs with Sam are
punctuated by silly bam! pow! chords on the overemphatic musical score. Comparisons with Larry Clark's looser, much-hyped KIDS, released that same year, are inevitable, especially in recurring images of an even-younger lost generation. This includes a scene that shows Arizona's tot siblings
methodically vandalizing a vacant suburban home. (Their out-of-it mom somehow thinks they're at school on a Saturday).
While TATTOO BOY may not have gained a high profile, it did win First Prize at the 1995 New York Underground Film Festival. (Adult situations, substance abuse, sexual situations, profanity, violence.)
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